Methane Matters: A comprehensive approach to methane mitigation

March 2022 Report
Methane Matters: A comprehensive approach to methane mitigation

Executive summary

Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme weather events, has already caused widespread adverse impacts to nature and people, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Some of the changes experienced today are already irreversible and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations. Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in areas and situations that are highly vulnerable to climate change and the IPCC warns that even 1.5°C of warming, which is what the governments are aiming for, would be extremely dangerous and will present numerous risks to ecosystems and humans. Actions taken in this decade will be critical in determining the extent of global warming for the centuries to come.

Methane is a short-lived but extremely potent gas – it has 82.5 times more warming potential than CO2 over a 20-year timespan. Because of its short lifespan – methane degrades in 12 years – the rapid reduction of methane emissions presents itself as a key opportunity to slow the rate of warming and help us to stay below 1.5°C of warming.

Under current policy scenarios, anthropogenic methane emissions are expected to continue to increase by more than 15% by 2030, reaching nearly 380 million tonnes per  year, an 8% increase from 2020 levels. Concerted efforts between countries are needed to see a drastic reduction of methane emissions at the global level and across the three high-emitting sectors: agriculture, energy and waste. As a result, more than 110 countries committed to the ‘Global Methane Pledge’ (henceforth called ‘the Pledge’) – an initiative launched at the 2021 UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. The Pledge has the collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared with a 2020 baseline. Although a step in the right direction, this commitment falls short of the ambition needed to stay below 1.5°C warming. According to the UN Environment Programme’s Global Methane Assessment (GMA), methane emissions should be reduced by at least 45% in this critical decade of climate action.

With 2030 only a few years away, this briefing provides recommendations for governments on immediate actions that can be taken in national action plans, identifying specific measures and policies to cut methane in the main methane-emitting sectors.  These include models developed by scientists as well as best practice and examples of successful policies around the world. In parallel, governments should enhance global governance on methane to enable and support national action on methane, with provisions on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) and financial and technical assistance.

Agriculture is the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions. Tackling the way we produce and consume food is critical to stabilising the climate to acceptable temperatures. The GMA concluded that targeted technical measures, which are already available, could reduce methane emissions in the ruminal livestock sector by around 30 million tons per year by 2030. These measures focus on the production of food and include improving feed quality, manure management and rice production. However, technical measures will not suffice on their own: it is crucial that governments adopt policy measures to promote healthier diets with less and better meat and dairy and more sustainable food production systems. In addition, large meat and dairy companies must be regulated to report and reduce their methane emissions.

The energy sector presents opportunities for significant methane mitigation at zero to low cost with existing technologies and best practices. For oil and gas, this includes leak detection and repair, technology standards and bans on routine venting and flaring along with initiatives to address inactive wells through capping or capture and use. For coal, this includes measures on routine venting and flaring in ventilation shafts and drainage and degasification stations along with initiatives to address inactive coal mines. Taken together with the swift economy-wide managed phase-out of fossil fuels, the energy sector has the potential to significantly contribute to limiting temperature increase through 2030 and beyond.

The waste sector is the third-largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions worldwide, contributing roughly 20% of all such emissions. Following the waste hierarchy, organic waste prevention is the most powerful tool for reducing methane emissions, including preventing upstream emissions involved in its production, management and transport. Source separation of organic discards, coupled with composting, bio-stabilisation of residual waste and biologically active cover for landfills and dumps can reduce solid waste methane emissions by as much as 95% by 2030. Composting alone, an age-old practice utilised around the world, could reduce solid waste methane emissions by 78% by 2030. Furthermore, waste prevention, source separation and composting of organic discards can create more and better jobs than other disposal methods, as well as a more stable, dignified livelihood for workers in the informal waste sector.

In addition to the measures from different sectors, countries should set out to develop a common framework for MRV of methane emissions. To assist countries, the International Methane Emissions Observatory could provide satellite surveillance and verification services as well as an early warning system for super-emitters. Collective action on methane will also require technical assistance to policymakers as well as financial assistance to developing countries.

Reducing methane emissions across all major emitting sectors will also bring numerous co-benefits, ranging from improving public health and creating jobs to saving costs for municipalities. Because methane is a primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, cutting emissions by 45% would also have the potential to prevent 255,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits each year. Importantly, measures designed to reduce methane emissions should be seen as a key trajectory to cut all greenhouse gas emissions. It is a coherent strategy that leads to the accelerated establishment of fossil-fuel-free, zero-waste societies with healthy plant-rich diets – the foundation to enable sustainable food production systems.

This briefing outlines recommendations, examples of successful policies and an overview of methane reduction potentials across all three sectors.

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