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21st May 2022

More countries join EU and US-led methane pledge

  • Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming, following carbon dioxide (Photo: Jeremy Buckingham)
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Two dozen countries joined, on Monday (11 October), an US and EU-led initiative to reduce global methane emissions, as momentum builds ahead of the UN climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow later this month.

Nigeria, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Philippines were among the new 24 signatories of the Global Methane Pledge, first announced by the European Union and the United States in September.

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Under this global effort, countries have committed to reducing methane emissions by at least 30 percent over the next decade and to improving the monitoring of emissions and leaks across the globe.

During a ministerial meeting with participating countries on Monday, US climate envoy John Kerry clarified that this was a global target and, therefore, "every country will do what it can in order to be able to reduce methane emissions".

Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming, following carbon dioxide. It is estimated to account for about half of the 1.0 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures that has already occurred since the pre-industrial era.

Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that 70 percent of methane emissions from gas and oil operations can be easily prevented.

"The solutions are proven and even profitable in many cases," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said at the time

Delivering on this global pledge could buy the planet some time, since it is estimated to reduce global warming by 0.2 degrees by 2050.

However, according to Inger Andersen from the UN environment programme, countries should not consider it as "a get-out-of-jail-free card" to tackle the climate crisis.

"It is important that we swiftly decarbonise our energy systems, that action on methane should be seen as complementary in the short term to the global efforts on CO2" in order to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement targets, Andersen said.

This partnership now covers nine of the world's top 20 methane emitters, representing about 30 percent of global methane emissions and 60 percent of the global economy.

But both the EU and the US hope more countries will support this initiative, when it is formally launched in Glasgow.

"The pledge's supporters are putting methane squarely on the COP26 agenda, where it belongs, and every country in the world should follow their lead and join the pledge immediately," said Sarah Smith from NGO Clean Air Task Force.

Meanwhile, a group of 20 philanthropists has announced €170m to implement the global pledge.

EU imports methane emissions

Over the last three decades, the European Union has reduced methane emissions from landfill almost by half and fossil fuels by almost 65 percent, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told his counterparts.

"But the large part of methane emissions associated with the European economy are not happening within our borders. Instead, they take place during the productions and transportation of fossil fuels that we import into the EU," he added.

The EU produces some five percent of global methane emissions internally, but it is the world's largest importer of gas and oil.

As a result, the European Commission is expected to put forward a legislative proposal by the end of the year to reduce methane emissions across the whole energy supply chain in the EU and in primary export countries - including binding rules on monitoring, reporting, leak detection and repair in the energy sector.

Within the EU, more than half of man-made methane emissions comes from agriculture (53 percent), followed by waste (26 percent) and energy (19 percent).

In the agriculture sector, the EU will promote research on innovative methane reducing technologies and nature-based solutions.

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The new European Commission strategy on slashing methane emissions focuses first on obtaining better data. Critics say it is a missed opportunity to impose targets and other binding measures on agriculture, the largest single emitter.

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Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is one area where the EU has a major opportunity to apply its market power to drive down global emissions, both through methane legislation and diplomacy.

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