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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Global Methane Pledge aims for 30 percent methane emissions cut from 2020 levels by 2030

A global Methane Pledge will be launched at the UN Climate Change Conference at Glasgow COP26 in November. The pledge will commit countries 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. The pledge is an initiative of the USA and European Union.

Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas. Methane (CH4)  emissions need to be reigned in along with carbon dioxide to meet the Paris climate agreement temperature targets. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 6th Assessment report on climate change warns that "Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality."

Update 28 October: The Nationals carved out agriculture and any methane emissions reduction as part of commitment to support Net Zero by 2050 plan. Australia will not sign the Global Methane Pledge at COP26.

Methane emissions are produced by the agricultural sector by ruminants (Cattle, sheep, etc), but also as fugitive emissions from coal, and from gas at every level of gas production from mining, distribution to being burnt for energy whether in residential homes or in manufacturing processes.

President Biden convened the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) on September 17 at which the Global Methane Pledge was raised urging countries to join as part of the urgency to strengthen climate ambition.

President Biden was joined in the September 17 virtual, closed-door gathering by leaders from Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, the European Commission, the European Council, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and the United Kingdom as well as the UN Secretary-General. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry chaired a ministerial session with China, Germany, India, and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken opened the meeting with a summary of the IPCC 6th Assessment report findings, followed by President Biden who called recent climate-related events as a “blinking code red” and noted that the time to act is narrowing — “to the point of no return.”   They were followed by Prime Minister Hasina of Bangladesh, representing the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Potential participation in the Global Methane Pledge to be launched at COP 26 was one of four topics addressed by participants. The other topics addressed commitments and actions to be undertaken in the leadup to COP26; importance of a forward-looking COP outcome to continue strengthening ambition and actions post-Glasgow; and plans to leverage the MEF post-Glasgow as a launchpad for collective, concrete efforts to scale up climate action during the decisive decade of the 2020s.

On the methane pledge the Chair summary states:

Recognizing that methane is a powerful, short-lived climate pollutant that already accounts for about half of the 1.0 degrees C of net warming to date, the Global Methane Pledge, an effort co-initiated by the United States and the European Union, will involve a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030 and implementation of related domestic actions.  There was broad recognition at the meeting of the importance of rapidly reducing methane emissions, and many MEF members, including the European Union, Argentina, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, declared their intention to join. It was reported that non-MEF countries, including Ghana and Iraq, have also signaled intent to join the Global Methane Pledge.  These early supporters of the Pledge 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. 

President Biden has already stepped up in multiple initiatives for the United States:

  • to curtail methane emissions from the oil and gas industry production and taking steps to reduce methane leakage from gas pipelines and related facilities.
  • implement stronger pollution standards for landfills,
  • addressing agricultural methane through the work of the US Department of Agriculture to significantly expand the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices to 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.

The  Euopean Commission press statement says that the European Union and eight countries have already indicated their support for the Global Methane Pledge:

  • Argentina
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Iraq
  • Italy
  • Mexico
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Update on countries pledging 12 October 2021

According to the US Department of State press note on October 11, "following initial announcement of support by Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Mexico and the United Kingdom at the MEF, 24 new countries announced that they will join the Global Methane Pledge. With these new commitments, 9 of the top 20 methane emitters are now participating in the Pledge, representing about 30% of global methane emissions and 60% of the global economy."

The new supporters include:

  • Canada
  • Central African Republic
  • Congo-Brazzaville
  • Costa Rica
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Guatemala
  • Guinea
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kyrgyz Republic
  • Liberia
  • Malta
  • Morocco
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Rwanda
  • Sweden
  • Togo

Oh look, Australia not listed, another area where we are a climate laggard again!

IEA: Methane abatement from fossilfuel production could be done at no net cost

The International Energy Agency (IEA) methane abatement report (January 2021) says that there was a drop in methane emissions from oil and gas industry in 2020 due mainly to lower production rather than prevention of leaks. 

The IEA Methane tracker report highlights about 40 percent of methane emissions come from natural sources, and 60 percent come from anthropogenic sources.  The largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions is agriculture, responsible for around one quarter of emissions, closely followed by the energy sector, which includes emissions from coal, oil, natural gas and biofuels.

Furtherm the IEA report estimates that it is technically possible to avoid around three quarters of today’s methane emissions from global oil and gas operations. "Moreover, a significant share of these could be avoided at no net cost, as the cost of the abatement measure is less than the market value of the additional gas that is captured." says the report.

Australia's position on Methane Pledge

Australia's position is not known from the Chair's summary of the Major Economies Forum on September 17. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was attending for Australia. 

It seems Australia has not joined the initial countries in pledging to reduce methane emissions. Australia remained unpledged as at 11 October 2021.

Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council, in commenting on the recent IPCC report, emphasises the need to reduce methane emissions quickly, including that we not start new fossil gas projects and that existing gas industry is phased out rapidly.

“Methane emissions from Australia’s gas industry are a contributor to the recent rise in global methane concentrations. To do our fair share to meet the Paris climate goals, it is critical that no new gas fields are opened and that our existing gas industry is phased out as quickly as possible,” said Professor Steffen. 

Add to this analysis that Methane released in gas production means Australia's emissions may be 10% higher than reported.

According to the National Greenhouse gas inventory, methane emissions totalled 1.09 Megatonne across all sectors. Australia should be able to easily reduce methane emissions by 0.327 MT by 2030.

The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory March 2021 report noted under most important sectoral drivers of Australia’s long-term emissions trend for Fugitive emissions from fossil fuel extraction and from Agriculture:

    • Fugitives – where emissions have increased 25.9% or 10.2 Mt CO2-e since 1990. Emissions were relatively stable until 2015 but have increased strongly as a result of the growth of the LNG industry;
    • Agriculture – where emissions have declined by 20.0% or 18.4 Mt CO2-e since 1990, in line with declining cattle and sheep populations;
A CSIRO July 2020 report on the problem of rising methane emissions identified that in Australia while agriculture is the biggest source of methane emissions the trend is falling while methane emissions from fossil fuels are rising due to expansion of the natural gas industry. 

"Livestock are the predominant cause of emissions in this sector, which have declined slowly over time."

"The fossil fuel industry is the next biggest contributor in Australia. Over the past six years, methane emissions from this sector have increased due to expansion of the natural gas industry, and associated “fugitive” emissions – those that escape or are released during gas production and transport.

"Since 2000, coal mining has contributed most to rising methane emissions from the fossil fuel sector. But the natural gas industry’s rapid growth means its contribution is growing."

Two academics from Sydney University say Australia should embrace reduction of methane.  Professor Jun Huang and Dr Shenlong Zhao from the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering argue in a media statement that development of a domestic and export hydrogen industry could reduce Australia's methane emissions.

Professor Huang said "The joint US-EU pact to drastically cut methane emissions while reducing CO2 levels is reasonable and is in the direction we should all be heading."

“In Australia, the main contributors to methane emissions are our natural and liquefied natural gas (LNG) industries, agriculture, and landfill."

“While natural gas and agriculture are important for our country’s economic prosperity as large export markets, they may potentially overexpose us as the world moves away from greenhouse gases, evidenced now by the US and EU’s methane deal."

“Simply put, if no one is buying then we won’t be selling, so Australia should look to cut its methane emissions. However, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom – this policy may actually stimulate and promote Australia’s fledgling hydrogen economy."

Professor Huang's colleague Dr Zhao works on decarbonisation technologies. 

Dr Zhao said, “The US-EU deal is a welcome move and is a signal to the rest of the world that we must urgently implement a global methane pledge. This would be positive for the whole world, especially for Australia as a sea-surrounded, dry country that is at high risk of impact from climate change."

“Novel technology would play a key role in such an implementation, and Australia is well-placed to capitalise on this, considering our abundant sunshine,  long and uninterrupted coastline and world-leading researchers. 

“For example, our team at the University of Sydney is developing a technology to combat the rise of the other main greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide. We are producing a photo-electrochemical water splitting and CO2 conversion combined technology. This will provide a sustainable way to both capture and convert CO2 to chemicals.

“This proposed ‘kill two birds with one stone’ strategy not only significantly reduces methane use by producing clean energies such as green hydrogen, but also directly utilises captured CO2 as feedstock to produce pure chemicals such as alcohols.”

Meat and Livestock Australia target zero carbon by 2030 

Most of Australia's agricultural emissions originates from the cattle and sheep farming industry. Methane is produced by ruminants (Cattle and sheep) 

Meat and Livestock Australia, the red meat and livestock industry association, has already adopted a net zero by 2030 target for greenhouse gas emissions stating:

"The Australian red meat industry has set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30). This means that by 2030, Australian beef, lamb and goat production, including lot feeding and meat processing, aim to make no net release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere." 

Gas emissions and politics

Currently in Australia we have the Coalition government proceeding to push a gas led recovery as part of pandemic recovery approving new gas basin projects such as the Beetaloo Basin and Barossa basin in the Northern Territory and the Narrabri basin in New South Wales. 

The Federal opposition Labor Party has as part of their National Party Policy Platform (2021) expansion of gas projects. See my email to Wills Labor MP Peter Khalil in August that highlighted this issue.

In Victoria the Labor Government, while banning fracking as part of the States's constitution, is not listening to the climate science and proceeding to approve onshore and offshore gas projects.

Surat Basin methane emissions underestimated

A study of methane emissions in the Surat Basin in Queensland (Luhar et al 2020) published in December 2020, with substantial cattle grazing and Coal Seam Gas production found that methane emissions had been underestimated. The abstract highlights the issue...

"Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas and a key precursor of tropospheric ozone, itself a powerful greenhouse gas and air pollutant. Methane emissions across Queensland's Surat Basin, Australia, result from a mix of activities, including the production and processing of coal seam gas (CSG). We measured methane concentrations over 1.5 years from two monitoring stations established 80 km apart on either side of the main CSG belt located within a study area of 350 km × 350 km. Using an inverse modelling approach coupled with a bottom-up inventory, we quantify methane emissions from this area. The inventory suggests that the total emission is 173.2 × 106 kg CH4 yr−1, with grazing cattle contributing about half of that, cattle feedlots ∼ 25 %, and CSG processing ∼ 8 %. Using the inventory emissions in a forward regional transport model indicates that the above sources are significant contributors to methane at both monitors. However, the model underestimates approximately the highest 15 % of the observed methane concentrations, suggesting underestimated or missing emissions." 

An ABC news report interviewed scientists doing an aerial survey of methane emissions in the Surat Basin.

"In terms of the coal seam gas sector, we are finding that emissions per unit of gas that's produced is two to three times higher than has previously been estimated," Dr Kelly told ABC's 7.30. "It's really important that we measure methane accurately — the rate of methane is increasing [globally] at a record pace. Within our region of study, coal seam gas contributed about 30 per cent of the total emissions."

Watch the ABC 7.30 Report video

The results of the study of the Surat Basin were published in the international scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.

The authors of this study - Coal seam gas industry methane emissions in the Surat Basin, Australia: comparing airborne measurements with inventories -  argue that CH4 emissions from CSG-dominated subregions in the Surat Basin are about one third greater than the bottom-up (BU) inventory estimate by Luhar et al 2020.

Australia has a high per capita methane emissions profile

According to Our World in Data (Oxford University) Australia has one of the largest per capita methane emissions profiles of G20 countries. Based on 2016 data Australia ranks second to Russia on methane emissions on 5.03 tonnes CO2e per capita. In 1990 methane per capita was 9.56 tonnes CO2e

Australia had the highest per capita methane emissions profile to 2007, then saw a period where Russia and Australia vied for the top spot before Russia pulled ahead in 2013.

Update 25 October: Saudi Arabia sets Net Zero target and signs on Global Methane Pledge

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced on the weekend a net Zero target of 2060 for Saudi Arabia, and at the same time announced the kingdom woukld sign on to the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, according to a BBC report

Update 28 October: Barnaby Joyce takes credit for excluding methane pledge from Net Zero plan

Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce takes credit for Australia not signing Global Methane Pledge giving straw arguments for the beef industry when long term trend is methane from agriculture is decreasing while fossil fuel methane is rising. There are solutions for reducing methane emissions in both sectors. Even Saudi Arabia has signed on. Labor's Shadow Climate Minister Chris Bowen says "We are not calling on the government to sign that pledge,"  Info: Nature Editorial 25 August on Methane emissions.
Source: ABC: Barnaby Joyce says agriculture carved out of net zero by 2050 deal, more funding for regions


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