Potent Methane Emissions Take Centre Stage at COP28

Tue Nov 21 2023
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DUBAI: In the run-up to the crucial COP28 meeting in Dubai, negotiators are expected to focus not only on reducing the most dangerous greenhouse gas, CO2, but also on another potent heat-trapping emission: methane.

This relatively short-lived gas is a key target for countries aiming to quickly slash emissions and combat climate change, particularly due to significant leaks from fossil fuel infrastructure.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the second-largest contributor to climate change, accounting for approximately 16 percent of the warming effect. While it remains in the atmosphere for only about 10 years, its warming impact is much more potent than CO2, being 28 times greater over a 100-year timescale and 80 times over 20 years.

The sources of methane emissions are diverse, with approximately 60 percent linked to human activity and the remaining 40 percent from natural sources, mainly wetlands. Agriculture is the largest contributor, responsible for about a quarter of emissions, primarily from livestock digestion and rice cultivation. The energy sector, including coal, oil, and gas, is the second-largest human-caused source.

Efforts to reduce methane emissions could yield significant benefits. A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that rapid cuts in methane emissions related to the fossil fuel sector could prevent up to 0.1 degrees Celsius of warming by mid-century. This reduction would have a substantial impact, equivalent to removing all cars and trucks worldwide from the road.

Repairing leaky infrastructure, eliminating routine flaring and venting during pipeline maintenance, and modifying animal diets are among the measures suggested to achieve these reductions. The joint EU-US “Global Methane Pledge,” launched in 2021, aims to reduce worldwide methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, with around 150 countries signing on. However, notable absentees include China, India, and Russia.

Ahead of COP28, there are calls for a substantial strengthening of the methane pledge, with a formalized reduction target of around 60 percent in the energy sector. Scientists emphasize the need for a binding agreement and rigorous measures to hold countries accountable. Both the United States and China have announced plans to include methane in their climate action, but quantified targets remain to be seen. Oil and gas giants, including the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, are also proposing commitments, aiming for zero emissions from their activities by 2030. The outcomes at COP28 could significantly shape global efforts to address methane emissions and combat climate change.

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