EU and US pledge to reduce methane emissions in energy and agriculture

EU and US pledge to reduce methane emissions in energy and agriculture
Credit: European Space Agency

The EU and the US announced jointly on Saturday the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative to reduce global methane emissions to be launched at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow.

Their pledge was also joined by seven other countries (Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Mexico and United Kingdom). These countries include six of the top 15 methane emitters globally and together account for over one-fifth of global methane emissions and nearly half of the global economy.

They promised to continue to enlist additional countries until its formal launch at COP 26 conference. To be effective, they need to get on board the big green-house gas emitters in the G20.

The pledge follows the alarming report released last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warns that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

While the evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, other greenhouse gases and air pollutants also affect the climate, in particular methane (CH4). IPCC writes in its Summary for Policymakers that in 2019, the concentrations of CH4 was higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.

Methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2 (around 12 years compared with centuries for CO2), but it is a much more potent greenhouse gas and accounts for about half of the 1.0 degrees Celsius net rise in global average temperature since the pre-industrial era. This implies that one tonne of methane has a much bigger impact than one tonne of carbon dioxide in the short-term term.

With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger, IPCC writes. For example, every additional 0.5°C of global warming causes clearly discernible increases in the intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heatwaves and heavy precipitation, as well as agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions.

Limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.

Rapidly reducing methane emissions is therefore considered an effective strategy to save time for the planet and reduce global warming in the near term while other measures will take effect.

Countries joining the Global Methane Pledge commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions, with a particular focus on high emission sources. Delivering on the Pledge would reduce warming by at least 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Measures by the EU and the US

Countries have widely varying methane emissions profiles and reduction potential, but all can contribute to achieving the collective global goal through additional domestic methane reduction and international cooperative actions, according to the EU and the US.

Major sources of methane emissions include oil and gas, coal, agriculture, and landfills. These sectors have different starting points and varying potential for short-term methane abatement with the greatest potential for targeted mitigation by 2030 in the energy sector, among others in preventing leaks of methane in the exploration of natural gas.

Under the European Green Deal, the EU adopted in October 2020 a strategy to reduce methane emissions in all key sectors covering energy, agriculture and waste. This year, the European Commission will propose legislation to measure, report and verify methane emission, put limits on venting and flaring, and impose requirements to detect leaks, and repair them.

The European Commission is also working to accelerate the uptake of mitigation technologies through the wider deployment of ‘carbon farming' in European Union Member States and through their Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plans, and to promote biomethane production from agricultural waste and residues.

The US is pursuing significant methane reductions on multiple fronts. In response to an Executive Order that President Biden issued on the first day of his Presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promulgating new regulations to curtail methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

In parallel, the EPA has taken steps to implement stronger pollution standards for landfills and the Department of Transportation's Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration is continuing to take steps that will reduce methane leakage from pipelines and related facilities.

Furthermore, the US Department of Agriculture is working to significantly expand the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices that will reduce methane emissions from key agriculture sources by incentivizing the deployment of improved manure management systems, anaerobic digesters, new livestock feeds, composting and other practices.

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