‘Methane’ might take the center stage at COP28
- Web Desk
- Nov 21, 2023
DUBAI: Climate talks often revolve around reducing the most dangerous greenhouse gas Carbondioxide – CO2. But other powerful heat-trapping emissions – of methane – are also likely to be in the crosshairs of negotiators at the crucial COP28 meeting in Dubai next week, AFP reported on Tuesday.
Methane – which is potent but relatively short-lived – is a key target for countries wanting to slash emissions quickly and slow climate change. That is particularly because large amounts of methane are simply leaking into the atmosphere from fossil fuel infrastructure.
Atmospheric methane (CH4) occurs abundantly in nature as the primary component of natural gas. It is the second largest contributor to climate change, accounting for around 16 percent of the warming effect. Methane remains in the atmosphere for only about 10 years, but has a much more powerful warming impact than CO2.
Its warming effect is 28 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year timescale (and 80 times over 20 years). Exactly how much methane is released in the atmosphere remains subject to “significant uncertainty”, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), despite progress in the monitoring of emissions through the use of satellites.
The majority of methane emissions – around 60 percent – are linked to human activity, the IEA says, while some 40 percent is from natural sources, mainly wetlands. Agriculture is responsible for roughly a quarter of these emissions. Most of that is from livestock – cows and sheep release methane during digestion and in their manure – and rice cultivation, 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 from deliberate releases during maintenance.
A recent IEA report estimates that rapid cuts in methane emissions linked to the fossil fuel sector could prevent up to 0.1 degrees Celsius of warming by mid-century.
That might sound like a modest reduction, but such a reduction would have an impact greater than “immediately taking all cars and trucks in the world off the road”, said the report authors. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol called it “one of the best and most affordable” options for reducing global warming.
Scientists at European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) have called for COP28 to agree on a “substantial strengthening” of the methane pledge, with a formalised reduction target of around 60 percent in the energy sector, in line with recent EU regulations. If such a global commitment were to happen at the climate talks in Dubai later this month it would constitute a “major success”, they said.
The United States and China have announced they will include methane in their climate action plans, and Beijing has revealed a plan to control its emissions – although without a quantified target.
Oil and gas giants have also proposed commitments, including the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which aims for zero emissions from their activities by 2030.