President Joe Biden’s pledge at COP28 to drastically reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in the US should serve as a wakeup call for India too. According to environmentalists, India needs to urgently address the issue of methane emissions from the waste sector, especially from landfills and open dumpsites. This will help it move closer to net zero targets.

In 2016 alone, India’s methane emissions were 409 million tonnes CO2, of which 14.46 per cent came from the waste sector. This included gigantic landfills and garbage dumps outside most towns and cities. Population growth and industrial activities led to an exponential hike of a whopping 224 per cent in greenhouse emissions by the waste sector between 1994 and 2016.

This is a matter of grave concern as the global warming potential of methane is 25 times higher than carbon dioxide. While India is not yet a signatory to the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce the world’s methane emissions 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030, it needs strategies to reduce its methane emissions.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas whose atmospheric concentration has more than doubled over the last two centuries due to human activity. According to a recent report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “Methane emissions from open dumpsites in India: Estimation and Mitigation strategies”, landfills are the third biggest source of methane emissions after agriculture and oil and gas systems. Open dumpsites and landfills are significant contributors of anthropogenic (man-made) methane gas. Since a considerable portion of waste in India is biodegradable, municipal solid waste when disposed of in dumpsites or landfills emits methane for years even if the landfill is scientifically closed.

Wastewater treatment and discharge, both industrial and domestic, also contributes highly to methane emissions from the waste sector. While emissions from the oil and gas sector receive attention, the waste sector also needs similar focus. The CSE report suggests mitigation strategies that include source segregation and scientific treatment of fresh waste. It says that bio-degradables should not be dumped in landfills.

Remediation of dumpsites, says the report, plays a critical role in reducing emissions by removing a methane source—legacy waste lying in the dumpsites. It recommends the promotion of carbon credits for bio-mining projects and afforestation on reclaimed bioremediated land.