During the first week of COP26, there were four major announcements at the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow: coal, finance, methane and deforestation. Of those four, the global methane pledge may have the most immediate impact on Earth’s climate – provided countries follow their pledges and advertise satellite monitoring actions effectively.
Under the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative launched by the US and the European Union, more than 100 countries have agreed to cut their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. And major foundations and philanthropic groups pledged more than US$325 million to help countries and industry dramatically reduce methane emissions from multiple sources.
Methane is about 84 times more powerful in warming the climate than carbon dioxide in the short term. Since it only remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years, compared to hundreds of years for carbon dioxide, reducing the amount of methane that human activities are adding to the atmosphere could have an accelerated effect on global warming.
According to EU estimates, a 30% cut in methane emissions could reduce projected warming by 0.2 °C (0.36 F). This buys some time while countries are reducing their hard-hitting carbon dioxide emissions, but that doesn’t mean other efforts can slow down.
How big of an impact can a pledge have?
The increase in methane emissions is driven by three anthropogenic sources: leakage from fossil fuel infrastructure – methane is the primary component of natural gas and can leak from natural gas pipelines, drilling operations and coal mines – and agriculture, primarily livestock and Even from rice fields. , and from rotting waste in landfills. Technology exists to detect and prevent leaks from pipelines and oil and gas operations, and many landfills already make money by capturing methane for use as fuel.
Several recent analyzes suggest that methane has immense potential for slow warming. In May 2021 the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Program released the Global Methane Assessment, a landmark report that outlines how reducing methane could change the climate trajectory within the next 20 years – to avoid dangerous passing An important deadline tipping point for slowing warming enough. The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in August 2021 that methane mitigation has the greatest potential to slow warming over the next 20 years.
Human-caused methane emissions are increasing at an alarming rate. Data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2021 shows an increase in global methane emissions in 2020. Methane emissions over the past decade have reached a five-year growth rate not seen since the 1980s.
an ambitious start
So, could the new global methane pledge act in time to help governments and industry limit global warming to 1.5°C over the next two decades?
In short: yes, it can.
The Global Methane Assessment determined that global human-caused methane emissions should be reduced to between 130 and 230 megatons per year by 2030, in line with the Paris climate agreement to keep global warming below 1.5 C compared to pre-industrial times. should be in line with the target. The global methane pledge announced at COP26 will achieve about 145 megatons in annual reductions in 2030, estimated from the International Energy Agency’s methane tracking report.
The Biden administration has widely proposed new rules specifically targeting oil and gas operations on methane emissions to help it reach its target. Missing from the signatories of the pledge, however, are some of the larger methane emitters, including China and Russia.
I served in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations and have been involved in climate change issues for many years. I see the pledge as a strong first step, especially as the first global commitment to reduce global methane emissions.
The 30% target serves as an ambitious floor to begin with, while countries get better at reducing methane and technologies improve.
Read more: Reducing methane is important to protect climate and health, and it could pay for itself – so why aren’t more companies doing the same?
This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow Climate Conference, by experts from around the world.
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