The Global Methane Pledge
The Global Methane Pledge includes six of the world’s ten biggest methane emitters: the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico – China, Russia, India and Iran, the other four in the top 10, have not signed up. While it is not part of the formal UN negotiations, the Methane Pledge could rank among the most significant outcomes from the COP26 conference, given its potential impact in holding off disastrous climate change.
Methane is the main greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. It has a higher heat-trapping potential than CO2 but breaks down in the atmosphere faster — meaning that cutting methane emissions can have a rapid impact in reining in global warming.
There are various sources of methane including human and natural sources. Human sources of methane include landfills, oil and natural gas systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial processes, the US Environmental Protection Agency notes.
The oil and gas sectors are among the largest contributors to human sources of methane. NASA notes that human sources (also referred to as anthropogenic sources) of methane are responsible for 60 percent of global methane emissions. These emissions come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, decomposition in landfills and the agriculture sector.
A UN report in May said steep cuts in methane emissions this decade could avoid nearly 0.3 degree Celsius of global warming by the 2040s. Failing to tackle methane, however, would push out of reach the 2015 Paris Agreement’s objective to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Moreover, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, methane accounts for about half of the 1.0 degrees Celsius net rise in global average temperature since the pre-industrial era.
If fulfilled, the Pledge is likely to have the biggest impact on the energy sector, since fixing leaky oil and gas infrastructure is the fastest and cheapest way to curb methane emissions.
Why is dealing with methane important for climate change?
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), while methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime (12 years as compared to centuries for CO2), it is a much more potent greenhouse gas simply because it absorbs more energy while it is in the atmosphere.
In its factsheet on methane, the UN notes that methane is a powerful pollutant and has a global warming potential that is 80 times greater than carbon dioxide, about 20 years after it has been released into the atmosphere. Significantly, the average methane leak rate of 2.3 percent “erodes much of the climate advantage gas has over coal,” the UN notes.
The IEA has also said that more than 75 percent of methane emissions can be mitigated with the technology that exists today, and that up to 40 percent of this can be done at no additional costs.