Methane Matters: Towards a global methane agreement

November 2022 Report
Methane Matters - website card


Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, around 80 times more powerful than carbon-dioxide (CO2 ) over a 20-year period, contributing to 25% of warming experienced today. The IPCC indicates that the scale of reduction of global methane emissions could decide whether global warming can be kept below 1.5°C and whether tipping points will be reached, which would accelerate irreversible changes to the climate system. UN Environment’s Global Methane Assessment (GMA) has found that “global methane emissions must be reduced by between 40–45% by 2030,” 30% of which could be achieved by readily available measures.

What is more, reducing methane emissions goes beyond solving the climate emergency and has been associated with tremendous co-benefits. This is in part because methane contributes to ozone formation, which is a potent local air pollutant that causes serious health problems, contributing to illnesses and premature deaths, as well as losses in agricultural harvests, not only locally but on a much wider geographical scope. Cutting methane by 45% by 2030 would have the potential to prevent 255,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits each year, as well as increase global crop yields by 26 million tonnes per year. In the energy sector, venting, flaring and methane leaks represent a waste of fossil gas. Mitigating those emissions could therefore save energy. In the context of the global energy crisis, this is particularly crucial. For example, the International Energy Agency has found that if exporters to the European Union (EU) were to put in place measures to limit flaring, they could increase gas exports by more than 45 billion cubic meters using existing infrastructures. This is equivalent to almost one third of Russian gas exports to the EU in 2021.

However, global anthropogenic methane emissions are projected to increase by nearly 9% over anticipated 2020 levels to 10,220 million metric tons of CO2e by 2030. Concerted efforts between countries are therefore critical to see a drastic reduction of methane emissions at the global level and across high methane-emitting sectors.

In light of these findings, more than 125 countries have committed to the Global Methane Pledge – an initiative launched at the 2021 UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. The Pledge has the goal of “reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions.” This Pledge represents an important milestone, but the initiative falls 10-15% short of the cuts needed to firmly ensure consistency with the 1.5°C target. Moreover, the Pledge does not include the key components to deliver on our objectives, including monitoring and reporting, national action plans and technical and financial assistance.

Anthropogenic methane emissions come from three major sectors: energy (35%), agriculture (40%) and waste (20%). New initiatives focusing on the energy sector alone, through the creation of a “buyers club” for fossil fuel importers, are insufficient to enable the necessary reduction of 45% of global methane emissions by 2030 nor will they achieve the additional reductions required in subsequent years. Therefore, to ensure a comprehensive approach, this new agreement should cover all three emitting sectors.

In other words, to deliver enduring methane emissions reductions at the scale required, countries should work toward quickly adopting a global methane agreement, one that provides an overarching framework to measure progress towards necessary reductions in 2030 and beyond, while ensuring international cooperation and financial assistance, enabling domestic actions and promoting implementation.

This ‘thought starter’ sets out a framework for collective international coordination and collaboration on methane emissions in the three emitting sectors, identifying the pillars of action for a global methane agreement to implement and strengthen the Pledge.

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