Manfredi Caltagirone, head of the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), on the Methane Alert and Response System
The Methane Alert and Response System (MARS) initiative was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on November 11, 2022.
MARS is a satellite-based system to detect methane emissions and help industries and governments in mitigating them. It will help UNEP corroborate methane emissions reported by companies and analyse changes over time.
It is the first publicly available system for monitoring any greenhouse gas emissions. It will map out major methane-detection events and intimate industries as well as governments to take appropriate action.
Methane is around 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and currently contributes to around a quarter of global warming. Its reduction is, thus, crucial for mitigating climate change.
The global methane pledge was adopted during COP26. Under it, countries agreed to reduce global methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. This will help to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The initiative is funded by the European Commission, the US government, Global Methane Hub and the Bezos Earth Fund. In an interview with Down To Earth, Manfredi Caltagirone, head of the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), United Nations Environment Programme, talks about how MARS functions and remains transparent. Excerpts:
Akshit Sangomla: What is MARS?
Manfredi Caltagirone: MARS works by integrating different satellite systems, starting with the satellite being managed by the European Space Agency called Sentinel 5P. It has a global coverage on a daily basis that we are going to be using to identify large methane plumes every day.
We will also use the data to generate an enhanced map of methane hotspots so that we can conduct further analysis using point source satellites. These satellites can zoom in and help us in quantifying methane emissions more precisely but also give us information on the type of facility from where the methane has been detected and even the ownership of the facility.
Once this process has happened, we will notify companies and national governments either directly or through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) partners.
In its initial phase, MARS will focus on the largest methane emissions coming from the energy sector. There will be a double notification process.
The first phase will be quicker and more informal. After analysis of the data is done based on the quantity and location of the emission source as well as the history of emissions in that particular region, there will be another formal notification.
There are two interesting elements. We are going to work with the oil and gas industry on the ground and with the governments if they decide to join the system to set up mitigation of those emissions and to coordinate action. After 45-75 days of the event detection all the information will be made public, including the characterisation of the event itself and the response taken by the particular facility and national government.
We are going to work closely with the companies that are members of the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP). The 90 members constitute around 35 per cent of the total global oil and gas production and two-thirds of the total liquefied natural gas flows around the world.
The idea is to have a constructive engagement on methane emissions with companies and governments.
AS: What is the threshold of methane concentration beyond which the emission event can be detected?
MC: There are two systems. The quicker one can detect plumes that generate methane at the rate of 10-15 tonnes an hour. It is easier to detect the plumes near the tropics rather than in the north or south of the tropic.
The other system, which will be used for deeper analysis with the help of point source satellites such SENTINEL 2 and PRSIMA, will be able to detect emissions at a much slower rate — around one tonne per hour. For that we need to point the satellite in that direction, for which we will be using the enhanced map that will be generated.
AS: What about the transparency aspects of the MARS system and oversight mechanism?
MC: We want to make the information public through the map as we don’t want MARS to become a shaming tool. We want it to be an opportunity to mitigate methane emissions and for the public to have control over the emissions. Transparency is paramount.
We want to engage with companies and national governments in a non-conflicting way. We would also like to engage companies as much as possible, to corroborate satellite data with observations from the ground.
The methods we are using for satellite observations are tested and published in scientific peer-reviewed journals. They have also been validated through controlled releases over the last few years.
We do not need ground observations to confirm that there has been an event. UNEP has also funded a variety of studies on these projects and we can commission a detailed scientific study if there is any conflict related to an emission event.
AS: How many countries and companies are engaged with the MARS initiative and is India involved?
MC: The system was requested by the United States and the European Union but it is in the service of the entire world. So, we will try to get in contact with companies and governments where a super emitting event could happen. There are no Indian companies that have joined the OGMP. I think it is a missed opportunity.
AS: Can a similar system be created for other greenhouse gases?
MC: It cannot be created with the same level of transparency or independence that IMEO brings to the table.
The work that UNEP is pioneering can help others create similar initiatives for other gases. This will help us know what works and what doesn’t work and develop methods that can be later replicated.
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