COP28 draws attention to high methane emissions

Methane leaks come from energy production, transport infrastructure – such as gas pipelines – and deliberate releases during maintenance.

Climate negotiations often revolve around reducing the most dangerous greenhouse gas, CO.2.

But other potent heat-trapping emissions – methane – will likely also be in negotiators’ crosshairs at the crucial COP28 meeting in Dubai next week.

Methane, potent but short-lived, is a key target for countries wanting to quickly reduce emissions and slow climate change.

This is partly because large amounts of methane are simply escaping 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 contributor to climate change, accounting for about 16 percent of the warming effect.

Methane only stays in the atmosphere for about 10 years, but its impact on warming is much more powerful than that of CO.2.

Its warming effect is 28 times greater than that of CO2 over a period of 100 years (and 80 times over 20 years).

The exact amount of methane released into the atmosphere remains subject to “significant uncertainty”, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), despite advances in monitoring emissions through the use of satellites.

And scientists wonder about the steady increase of methane in the atmosphere, with concentrations currently more than two and a half times higher than pre-industrial levels.

Gas leaks and cow burps

The majority of methane emissions – around 60 percent – ​​are linked to human activity, according to the IEA, while around 40 percent come from natural sources, mainly wetlands.

Agriculture is the main culprit, responsible for around a quarter of emissions.

Most of this comes from livestock (cows and sheep release methane during digestion and in their manure) and rice farming, where flooded fields create ideal conditions for methane-emitting bacteria.

The energy sector – coal, oil and gas – is the second largest source of human-caused methane emissions.

Methane leaks from energy infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, and deliberate releases during maintenance.

Discarded household waste also releases large amounts of methane as it decomposes if left to rot in landfills.

Methane: a powerful greenhouse gas

Graph on the contribution of methane to global warming, emissions by sector and the increase in concentration in the atmosphere since 1984.

What can be done?

A recent IEA report estimates that rapid reductions in methane emissions from the fossil fuel sector could prevent warming of up to 0.1 degrees Celsius by mid-century.

That may seem like a modest reduction, but such a reduction would have a greater impact than “immediately removing all of the world’s cars and trucks from the road,” the report’s authors said.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol called it “one of the best and most affordable options” to reduce global warming.

This goal could be achieved by repairing leaking infrastructure and eliminating routine flaring and venting during pipeline maintenance.

“Leaks are far too high in many areas where natural gas is extracted, but some countries, notably Norway, have shown that it is possible to extract and supply natural gas with minimal levels of leakage,” said William Gillett, director of the energy program at the European Academies of Sciences. Advisory Council (EASAC), told AFP.

In the case of agriculture, it is possible to modify the diet of animals by, for example, adding a compound to improve their health and that of the planet.

For rice fields, changes in water management are the “most promising” way to reduce emissions, according to an FAO report.

A binding agreement?

A joint EU-US Global Methane Pledge was launched in 2021, aiming to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels.

Some 150 countries joined the agreement, but China, India and Russia were conspicuously absent.

“To slow climate change, it will be essential that the most important players who have not yet signed on to the project commit” to this commitment, Gillett said.

Voluntary initiatives like these also lack rigorous measures to hold countries to account.

EASAC scientists have called for COP28 to agree on a “substantial strengthening” of the methane commitment, with a formalized reduction target of around 60% in the energy sector , in accordance with recent EU regulations.

If such a global commitment were to materialize at the climate talks in Dubai later this month, it would constitute a “major success”, they said.

The United States and China announced they would include methane in their climate action plans, and Beijing unveiled a plan to control its emissions, but without a quantified target.

China’s plan is “a crucial step in tackling one of the country’s biggest greenhouse gases, which accounts for 10% of the country’s total emissions,” said Byford Tsand of climate think tank E3G.

However, “it will take time to assess whether the plan could produce a ‘significant effect’ in the absence of quantified reduction targets,” he added.

Oil and gas giants have also proposed commitments, including the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which aims for zero emissions from their operations by 2030.

© 2023 AFP

Quote: COP28 draws attention to potent methane emissions (2023, November 21) retrieved November 21, 2023 from

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