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Tackling methane emissions from fossil sectors is vital to slow near-term climate warming: readily available UNECE tools can support action

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Human-caused methane emissions are rising, and must be reduced by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5° C, warned the Global Methane Assessment released last month by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This would avoid nearly 0.3° C of global warming by 2045 and complement all long-term climate change mitigation efforts.

Methane is a an extremely potent greenhouse gas, responsible for about 30 per cent of warming since pre-industrial times. The good news is that unlike CO2 which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, methane has an atmospheric lifetime of around a decade, which means that cutting methane emissions now can rapidly reduce the rate of warming in the near-term.

Cost-effective solutions can cut methane emissions now

The report notes that most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors: fossil fuels, waste, and agriculture. In the fossil fuel sector, oil and gas extraction, processing, and distribution account for 23 per cent, and coal mining accounts for 12 per cent of emissions. It highlights that readily available measures can reduce 2030 methane emissions by 30 per cent if fully implemented, and that nearly half of these technologies are available to the fossil fuel sector. Many of these are zero to low cost solutions. 

To support concrete action now, countries and industry can use UNECE’s Best Practice Guidance for Effective Methane Management in the Oil and Gas Sector. This practical resource can help improved monitoring, reporting and verifying of methane emissions, and strengthen remediation practices. It emphasizes that nearly 50% of oil and gas sector methane emissions can be eliminated at no net cost. And because capturing methane, which is the primary component of natural gas, means capturing more product, this also offers a strong business incentive to address leakages.

This complements UNECE guidance on recovery and use of methane from abandoned coal mines (which can continue to release methane into the atmosphere for decades), as well as from operating coal mines - in which the guidance helps address leaks, but also enhance safety, since methane leaks are a major cause of explosions in underground coal mines with numerous accidents every year around the world.

Join the call to action

Ahead of A Call to Action on Methane – an international dialogue hosted by the Global Methane Initiative (GMI) on 3 June – UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova said “We must make 2021 the year for real action on methane. I urge all governments of our region to put methane emissions reductions high on their agenda for COP26 as a near-term solution to complement ambitious decarbonisation efforts and the shift to renewables. UNECE stands ready to help all stakeholders leverage its guidance and policy tools.”

In a recent New York Times interview, Drew Shindell, the Global Methane Assessment’s lead author and Professor of Earth Science at Duke University – who will also join the international dialogue – stated that “it’s going to be next to impossible to remove enough carbon dioxide to get any real benefits for the climate in the first half of the century…but if we can make a big enough cut in methane in the next decade, we’ll see public health benefits within the decade, and climate benefits within two decades”.

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