Anthropogenic methane emissions are one of the biggest drivers of climate change.
With 80 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, methane is responsible for about half a degree Celsius of the warming we’ve experienced so far— and it’s continuing to push our planet closer and closer to dangerous climate tipping points. However, due to its short-lived nature in the atmosphere, rapidly reducing methane emissions is the best strategy we have to bend the curve on climate.
Last year, at COP26, world leaders elevated methane to the highest levels of the global climate conversation with the launch of the Global Methane Pledge, an international commitment to collectively reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030. Spearheaded by the U.S. and EU, the pledge put methane on the map and provided an important platform for governments to recognize the scale of the problem, raise their ambitions, and set the stage for bold action.
Where things stand, one year later
Over the course of the past year, the Global Methane Pledge has generated tremendous momentum. To date, more than 120 countries have collectively committed to cutting their methane emissions 30% by 2030, representing half of global methane emissions and nearly three-quarters of the global economy.
Even more importantly, countries have begun to turn ambition into action with concrete roadmaps, strengthened regulations, and new financing. During COP27, we are expecting 40 countries to unveil action plans and we have already seen national governments around the world taking concrete steps to cut methane over the past year:
- In the United States, EPA issued a rule addressing existing sources of methane across the country for the first time, a good start that provides a pathway EPA can follow to issue a robust and protective final rule by the end of 2022.
- In the EU, the European Commission developed its first EU-wide proposal to cut methane emissions from the energy sector, with methane regulations to be finalized by 2023. The EU, Japan, and South Korea are also discussing import standards to reduce methane emissions from their imported gas.
- Canada is launching a second round of regulations to reduce methane emissions with a 75% reduction goal, building on their 2018 regulations.
- Egypt has launched several efforts to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas flaring, effectively reducing flaring from its oil and gas sector by 26%.
- Nigeria has set a world-leading target to reduce 60% of its fugitive methane emissions by 2031, and has included that target in its Nationally Determined Contribution. It plans to finalize its regulations by the end of this year.
- In Latin America, Mexico announced a new project to fully implement methane emissions reductions through financing and technical collaboration; Colombia became the first South American country to regulate methane emissions from its oil and gas sector with new standards released in February 2022; and Ecuador worked with Clean Air Task Force to assess methane emissions from its oil and gas sector — and develop a plan to reduce emissions.
On the financing side, the United States and the European Union, along with eleven other country partners, announced the launch of the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway to advance the capture of methane emissions and eliminate routine flaring in the oil and gas sector — backed by nearly $60 million of funding from supporting countries and organizations.
Despite this encouraging progress, however, global methane pollution has continued to rise year after year — and is currently at an all-time high. In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that atmospheric levels of methane spiked by a record amount in 2021 and are increasing at the fastest-ever recorded rate. In September, ruptures in in the Nord Stream pipelines represented the largest single methane emitting event ever recorded.
Discrepancies in reported emissions also continue to persist. In February, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Global Methane Tracker found that national inventories underestimate methane emissions by 70% — a shocking, if unsurprising, miscount. This undercounting is consistent with CATF’s own documentation of emissions in Europe as well as a growing body of scientific research highlighting gaps in national inventories.
If methane emissions continue to increase, meeting 1.5- and 2-degree goals will not be possible, even under the most optimistic scenarios for carbon dioxide reductions.
We have solutions
Reducing methane emissions remains the low-hanging fruit of climate policy. Emissions come from three major sectors— fossil fuels, agriculture, and waste — and we have readily available, cost-effective solutions in all three:
- For methane emissions from fossil fuels, we can reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector with upstream and downstream leak detection and repair, recovery and utilization of vented gas, and improved control of unintended fugitive emissions from the production of oil and natural gas. In the coal sector, methane can be captured from both operating and abandoned mines and used for power generation, heating needs, and even pipeline sales.
- In the agricultural sector, we can reduce methane emissions by improving animal health and husbandry, livestock manure management, and better practices to manage agricultural crop residues.
- In the waste sector, we can reduce methane emissions through food waste prevention, organic waste diversion, landfill gas capture and use, and wastewater treatment.
Where we go from here
Methane had its big moment at COP26, and at COP27, it’s time to show momentum. We need more countries, including some of the world’s largest methane emitters, to sign onto the Global Methane Pledge, and we need those that have signed on to put their ambition into action. We’d like to see detailed reporting mechanisms established for methane mitigation, as well as binding agreements between countries, strong national standards to reduce methane emissions, and the establishment of clear expectations for Global Methane Hub signatories.
Clear financing mechanisms will also be critical to catalyze rapid action. According to a report from Climate Policy Initiative, global finance for methane action is highly inadequate, with more than $100 billion needed annually, and big-name methane polluters remain on the outside of the international effort to cut methane emissions. This means that donor governments must significantly scale up the amount of funding pledged for methane mitigation projects, with a focus on investable projects, pipelines, and policies to create enabling environments; partnerships and best practice sharing; and an appreciation by the financial community of the ways methane mitigation can boost sustainable development outcomes.
Since the signing of the Global Methane Pledge, the imperative to cut methane has only become more urgent, and CATF and our partners will be on the ground at COP27 to showcase ambition and action. We’ll convene major stakeholders from around the world in a series of roundtable discussions and events — including at our Zero-Carbon Future pavilion — reminding the world that methane mitigation is critical and achievable. It’s near-term climate win that the world cannot afford to pass up.