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Insights into Editorial: What is the Global Methane Pledge, and why is methane significant for climate change?

 

Context:

The Global Methane Pledge was launched at the ongoing UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

So far, over 90 countries have signed this pledge, which is an effort led jointly by the United States and the European Union.

Methane is the second-most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, after carbon dioxide, and, therefore, pledges related to cutting down its emissions are significant.

 

What is the Global Methane Pledge?

The pledge was first announced in September by the US and EU, and is essentially an agreement to reduce global methane emissions.

One of the central aims of this agreement is to cut down methane emissions by up to 30 per cent from 2020 levels by the year 2030.

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.

Rapidly reducing methane emissions is complementary to action on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and is regarded as the single most effective strategy to reduce global warming in the near term and keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.

 

What is methane?

  1. Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon, consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms (CH4). It is flammable, and is used as a fuel
  2. According to the UN, 25 per cent of the warming that the world is experiencing today is because of methane, a greenhouse gas, which is also a component of natural gas. Because it is a greenhouse gas, its presence in the atmosphere increases Earth’s temperature.
  3. The Global Methane Pledge agreement between the US and the EU sets a goal of reducing worldwide methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, based on 2020 levels.
  4. If implemented globally, this would minimise global warming by 0.2 degrees Celsius by the 2040s, compared to projected temperature rises.
  5. The planet is presently around 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

 

Sources of Methane emissions:

  1. Approximately 40% of methane emitted is from natural sources and about 60% comes from human-influenced sources, including livestock farming, rice agriculture, biomass burning and so forth.
  2. 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.
  3. The oil and gas sectors are among the largest contributors to human sources of methane.
  4. NASA notes that human sources (also referred to as anthropogenic sources) of methane are responsible for 60 per cent of global methane emissions.
  5. These emissions come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, decomposition in landfills and the agriculture sector.
  6. In India, for instance, in 2019, the Ministry of Coal asked state-run coal miner Coal India Limited (CIL) to produce 2 MMSCB (million metric standard cubic metres) per day of coalbed methane (CBM) gas in the next 2 to 3 years.
  7. CBM, like shale gas, is extracted from what are known as unconventional gas reservoirs — where gas is extracted directly from the rock that is the source of the gas (shale in case of shale gas and coal in case of CBM).
  8. The methane is held underground within the coal and is extracted by drilling into the coal seam and removing the groundwater.
  9. The resulting drop in pressure causes the methane to be released from the coal.

 

Lack of money, technology needs to be addressed for climate change:

  1. More than the lack of adequate action on emission reductions, the developed countries have been found wanting in their commitment to help and support developing countries, especially the least developed ones, in dealing with the impacts of climate change.
  2. This included providing money and technology to facilitate adaptation to the changing environment, something that the developed countries are mandated to do, not just under the Kyoto Protocol but also in the successor Paris Agreement regime.
  3. But hardly any meaningful amount of money, or transfer of technology, took place under the Kyoto Protocol.
  4. In 2009, at the Copenhagen conference, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the developed countries would mobilise’ $100 billion in “new and additional” climate finance for developing countries every year from 2020. This promise got written in the Paris Agreement as well.
  5. While the developed countries claim that this sum has already started flowing, developing countries say there is very little money on offer, and that a lot of what is being dressed as climate finance is actually pre-existing aid or money flowing for other purposes.
  6. Besides, $100 billion now seems like a paltry amount when estimates suggest that trillions of dollars are required in climate finance every year.

 

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 per cent “erodes much of the climate advantage gas has over coal”.

The IEA has also said that more than 75 per cent of methane emissions can be mitigated with the technology that exists today, and that up to 40 per cent of this can be done at no additional costs.

 

Conclusion:

Recently, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has developed an anti-methanogenic feed supplement ‘Harit Dhara’ (HD), which can cut down cattle methane emissions by 17-20% and can also result in higher milk production.

The India GHG Program led by WRI India (non-profit organization), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) is an industry-led voluntary framework to measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions.