Discussions about climate change often revolve around reducing CO2, the most dangerous greenhouse gas.
But methane, another powerful heat-trapping emission, is also likely to be in negotiators’ crosshairs at the crucial COP28 meeting in Dubai next week.
Methane is powerful but relatively short-lived, making it a key target for countries looking to quickly reduce emissions and slow climate change.
That’s especially because a lot of methane is just leaking into the atmosphere from fossil fuel infrastructure.
– What is methane? –
Atmospheric methane (CH4) is abundant in nature as the main component of natural gas.
It is the second largest cause of climate change, accounting for about 16 percent of the warming effects.
Although methane remains in the atmosphere for only about 10 years, it has a much stronger warming effect than CO2.
Its warming effect is 28 times greater than CO2 over 100 years (80 times greater over 20 years).
Despite progress in monitoring emissions through the use of satellites, the exact amount of methane released into the atmosphere remains subject to “significant uncertainties”, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). has been done.
And scientists are troubled by the steady increase in methane in the atmosphere, with concentrations now more than two and a half times higher than pre-industrial levels.
～Gas leak and cow burp～
According to the IEA, the majority of methane emissions (about 60%) are related to human activities, and about 40% come from natural sources, mainly wetlands.
Agriculture is the biggest culprit, accounting for about a quarter of emissions.
Most of it comes from livestock (cows and sheep release methane during digestion and in their manure) and from rice cultivation, where rice fields create ideal conditions for methane-emitting bacteria.
The energy sector (coal, oil, and gas) is the second largest anthropogenic source of methane emissions.
Methane leaks from energy infrastructure such as gas pipelines and through intentional releases during maintenance.
Discarded household waste is also left to rot in landfills, releasing large amounts of methane as it decomposes.
– What can you do? –
A recent IEA report estimates that rapidly reducing methane emissions associated with the fossil fuel sector could prevent up to 0.1 degrees of warming by mid-century.
While this may sound like a modest reduction, the report’s authors said such a reduction would have a greater impact than “immediately removing every car and truck in the world from the road.” Ta.
IEA Director-General Fatih Birol said this was “one of the best and most affordable options” to limit global warming.
This could be accomplished by repairing leaky infrastructure and eliminating routine flaring and venting during pipeline maintenance.
“Although leakage is too high in many areas where natural gas is extracted, in some countries, particularly Norway, it is possible to extract and supply natural gas with minimal leakage. William Gillett, energy program director at the European Academy of Sciences, said: advisory committee (EASAC) told AFP.
In agriculture, it is possible to modify an animal’s diet, including adding compounds to improve the health of the animal and the planet.
For rice fields, changing water management is the “most promising” way to reduce emissions, the FAO report said.
– A binding contract? –
The joint EU-US Global Methane Pledge was launched in 2021 and aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2020 levels.
Approximately 150 countries have signed the agreement, but China, India and Russia have not significantly participated.
“If we are to slow climate change, it will be critical that the most important players who have not been on board to date join this pledge,” Gillette said.
These voluntary initiatives also lack rigorous measures to hold countries accountable.
EASAC scientists are calling for COP28 to agree to a “significant strengthening” of methane commitments, with a formal reduction target of around 60% in the energy sector, in line with recent EU regulations.
They said it would be a “huge success” if such a global commitment were to materialize at climate change talks to be held in Dubai later this month.
The United States and China have announced that they will include methane in their climate action plans, and the Chinese government has unveiled plans to control methane emissions, although there are no quantitative targets.
Byford Zand of climate think tank E3G said China’s plan was “an important step forward in addressing one of the country’s major greenhouse gas emissions, which accounts for 10% of the country’s total emissions”.
But he added: “In the absence of quantified reduction targets, it will take time to assess whether this plan can have a ‘significant impact’.”
Major oil and gas companies are also proposing commitments such as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which aims to reduce emissions from their operations to zero by 2030.