A trash heap 62 meters high shows the scale of India’s climate challenge

As part of his “Clean India” initiative, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said efforts are being made to remove these mountains of garbage and convert them into green zones. That goal, if achieved, could relieve some of the suffering of those residents living in the shadows of these dump sites – and help the world lower its greenhouse gas emissions. India wants to lower its methane output, but it hasn’t joined the 130 countries who have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, a pact to collectively cut global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Scientists estimate the reduction could cut global temperature rise by 0.2% – and help the world reach its target of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

At the Bhalswa landfill in northwest Delhi, a steady flow of jeeps zigzag up the trash heap to dump more garbage on a pile now over 62 meters (203 feet) high. Fires caused by heat and methane gas sporadically break out – the Delhi Fire Service Department has responded to 14 fires so far this year – and some deep beneath the pile can smolder for weeks or months, while men, women and children work nearby, sifting through the rubbish to find items to sell.

Some of the 200,000 residents who live in Bhalswa say the area is uninhabitable, but they can’t afford to move and have no choice but to breathe the toxic air and bathe in its contaminated water. Bhalswa is not Delhi’s largest landfill. It’s about three meters lower than the biggest, Ghazipur, and both contribute to the country’s total output of methane gas.

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, but a more potent contributor to the climate crisis because methane traps more heat. India creates more methane from landfill sites than any other country, according to GHGSat, which monitors methane via satellites. And India comes second only to China for total methane emissions, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global Methane Tracker….