The assessment, for the first time, integrates the climate and air pollution costs and benefits from methane mitigation. Because methane is a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone (smog), a powerful climate forcer and dangerous air pollutant, a 45% reduction would prevent 260 000 premature deaths, 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environmental are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”
Rick Duke, Senior Advisor to the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change, said: “Methane accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and, now that the world is acting to phase down hydrofluorocarbons through the Montreal Protocol, it is by far the top priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5˚C within reach. The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally – through measures like research and development, standards to control fossil and landfill methane, and incentives to address agricultural methane. We look forward to continued partnership with the CCAC on this crucial climate priority.”
Jutta Paulus, Member of the European Parliament, Greens/European Free Alliance, said: “The Global Methane Assessment only increases the urgency of acting on methane emissions. Although it is difficult to influence extra-European Union upstream methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, we must not sit idle in this regard. An ambitious roadmap starting with measurement and reporting duties but outlining requirements for future import permits would push international action. We must tackle emissions not only from the energy sector, but also from landfills, agriculture, and abandoned coal mines. Setting aside dedicated funds for these super-emitters will be well-invested money on the path to reach our climate targets in 2030.”
Kadri Simson, European Union Commissioner for Energy, said: “Building on the EU methane strategy last October, this UN report highlights just how damaging methane emissions can be, and the need to take concerted action at international level.”
The need for action is urgent. Human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than at any time since record-keeping began in the 1980s. Despite a COVID-19 induced economic slowdown in 2020 that prevented another record year for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the amount of methane in the atmosphere shot up to record levels according to data recently released by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
This is a concern because methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, responsible for about 30% of warming since pre-industrial times. The good news is that unlike CO2 which stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, methane starts breaking down quickly, with most of it gone after a decade. This means cutting methane emissions now can rapidly reduce the rate of warming in the near-term.
The report notes that most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors: fossil fuels, waste, and agriculture. In the fossil fuel sector, oil and gas extraction, processing and distribution account for 23%, and coal mining accounts for 12% of emissions. In the waste sector, landfills and wastewater make up about 20% of emissions. In the agricultural sector, livestock emissions from manure and enteric fermentation represent roughly 32%, and rice cultivation 8% of emissions. The assessment identifies measures that specifically target methane.
By implementing these readily available solutions methane emissions can be reduced by 30% by 2030. Most are in the fossil fuel sector where it is relatively easy to locate and fix methane leaks and reduce venting. There are also targeted measures that can be used in the waste and agriculture sectors.
Roughly 60% of these targeted measures are low cost and 50% of those have negative costs, meaning companies make money from taking action. The greatest potential for negative costs is in the oil and gas industry where preventing leaks and capturing methane adds to revenue instead of releasing the gas into the atmosphere.
But targeted measures alone are not enough. Additional measures that do not specifically target methane, like a shift to renewable energy, residential and commercial energy efficiency, and a reduction in food loss and waste, can reduce methane emissions by a further 15% by 2030. These additional measures are not necessarily harder or slower than targeted measures. Some of them may be much faster to implement, and all of them will produce multiple benefits.
Drew Shindell, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, and is Professor of Climate Science at Duke University, said urgent steps must be taken to reduce methane emissions this decade.
“To achieve global climate goals, we must reduce methane emissions while also urgently reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Dr Shindell said. “The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available.”
It is important to specifically focus on methane mitigation as part of climate action in this decade, leading to further reductions up to 2050. It is a positive sign that more countries are now acknowledging this. Slashing methane emissions is the main lever to slow the pace of global warming in the near term because it is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere. It is also necessary to reduce emissions by about 45% by 2030 from current levels to increase the chance of meeting the Paris Agreement 1.5˚C target.
Johan C. I. Kuylenstierna co-author of the report and Research Leader at SEI
The assessment was compiled by an international team of scientists using state-of-the-art composition and climate models and policy analyses from four leading research centres to create the most comprehensive benefits and costs analysis of methane mitigation options assembled to date. The assessment analyses national-level impacts for every country and regional mitigation potential to help policymakers assess global and local costs, which sectors to target, and the effects of methane reductions.
The assessment found that the mitigation potential varies between countries and regions. The largest potential in Europe and India is in the waste sector. In China, it is from coal production followed by livestock, while in Africa it is from livestock followed by oil and gas. In the Asia-Pacific region, excluding China and India, it is coal and waste, and in the Middle East, North America and Russia/Former Soviet Union it is from oil and gas. In Latin America, it is from the livestock subsector.
Methane mitigation can save lives, prevent respiratory disease, help prevent further warming and overall contribute to healthier ecosystems. The measures that need to be taken to achieve this are readily available, and cost-effective. There is no reason not to act now. Explicitly and specifically addressing methane emissions will benefit everyone, particularly the vulnerable.
Eleni Michalopoulou co-author and Research Associate at SEI
There is growing government ambition to do more to reduce methane. In October 2020, the European Commission adopted the European Union Methane Strategy that outlines measures to cut methane emissions in Europe and internationally.
On 29 April, the US Senate passed a bi-partisan vote to reinstate Obama-era regulations to control leaks from oil and gas wells. It requires companies to monitor, plug and capture methane from new drilling sites.
During President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate on 22-23 April leaders called for reductions in methane.
President Vladimir Putin, Russia, called for global action on methane saying, “we must take into account absolutely every cause of global warming” and “it would be extremely important to develop broad and effective international cooperation in the calculation and monitoring of all polluting emissions into the atmosphere.”
President Emmanuel Macron of France said: “[It is] important for all of us to start the fight to reduce methane emissions.” Argentina’s President, Alberto Fernández, also stressed “a plan to reduce methane emissions”. Vietnam’s President, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, said Vietnam plans to reduce methane emissions from agriculture by 10% by 2030.
At the Summit, energy ministries from the US, Canada, Norway, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia – which represent 40% of global oil and gas production – established the cooperative Net Zero Producers Forum to create pragmatic net-zero strategies, including methane abatement.
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