Volume 200, 2017

The social cost of methane: theory and applications


Methane emissions contribute to global warming, damage public health and reduce the yield of agricultural and forest ecosystems. Quantifying these damages to the planetary commons by calculating the social cost of methane (SCM) facilitates more comprehensive cost-benefit analyses of methane emissions control measures and is the first step to potentially incorporating them into the marketplace. Use of a broad measure of social welfare is also an attractive alternative or supplement to emission metrics focused on a temperature target in a given year as it incentivizes action to provide benefits over a broader range of impacts and timescales. Calculating the SCM using consistent temporal treatment of physical and economic processes and incorporating climate- and air quality-related impacts, we find large SCM values, e.g. ∼$2400 per ton and ∼$3600 per ton with 5% and 3% discount rates respectively. These values are ∼100 and 50 times greater than corresponding social costs for carbon dioxide. Our results suggest that ∼110 of 140 Mt of identified methane abatement via scaling up existing technology and policy options provide societal benefits that outweigh implementation costs. Within the energy sector, renewables compare far better against use of natural gas in electricity generation when incorporating these social costs for methane. In the agricultural sector, changes in livestock management practices, promoting healthy diets including reduced beef and dairy consumption, and reductions in food waste have been promoted as ways to mitigate emissions, and these are shown here to indeed have the potential to provide large societal benefits (∼$50–150 billion per year). Examining recent trends in methane and carbon dioxide, we find that increases in methane emissions may have offset much of the societal benefits from a slowdown in the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions. The results indicate that efforts to reduce methane emissions via policies spanning a wide range of technical, regulatory and behavioural options provide benefits at little or negative net cost. Recognition of the full SCM, which has typically been undervalued, may help catalyze actions to reduce emissions and thereby provide a broad set of societal benefits.

Associated articles

Article information

Article type
11 Jan 2017
25 Jan 2017
First published
25 Jan 2017

Faraday Discuss., 2017,200, 429-451

The social cost of methane: theory and applications

D. T. Shindell, J. S. Fuglestvedt and W. J. Collins, Faraday Discuss., 2017, 200, 429 DOI: 10.1039/C7FD00009J

To request permission to reproduce material from this article, please go to the Copyright Clearance Center request page.

If you are an author contributing to an RSC publication, you do not need to request permission provided correct acknowledgement is given.

If you are the author of this article, you do not need to request permission to reproduce figures and diagrams provided correct acknowledgement is given. If you want to reproduce the whole article in a third-party publication (excluding your thesis/dissertation for which permission is not required) please go to the Copyright Clearance Center request page.

Read more about how to correctly acknowledge RSC content.

Social activity