Climate Change

Methane emissions to rise 5-13% by 2030 from 2020 levels under business-as-usual scenario: Report

Human activities release 350-390 million tonnes of methane annually

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 18 November 2022

Methane emissions can rise 5-13 per cent above 2020 levels by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario, according to a new report.

This represents an estimated increase of 20-50 million tonnes of methane per year above current levels, stated the report by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This greenhouse gas is responsible for nearly 45 per cent of current net warming, the report underlined. 

The Global Methane Assessment: 2030 Baseline Report was launched at the Climate and Clean Air Ministerial Meeting at 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Joining global pledge 

The report evaluated the baseline, a scenario of what would happen without efforts such as the Global Methane Pledge.

The Global Methane Pledge was announced last year at CoP26. The goal is to slash global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030.

Achieving the pledge could eliminate over 0.2 degree Celsius of warming from 2040-2070, UNEP wrote. 

Cutting methane emissions in the next decade should complement decarbonisation efforts. This is mainly because removing carbon dioxide will also remove cooling aerosols, the baseline report highlighted.

At CoP27, 150 nations joined the pledge, John Kerry, the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, announced at the meeting. India and China have not made the commitment yet.

Around 95 per cent of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) now include methane or will include it in revised versions, Kerry added. He said that 50 countries have developed national methane action plans.

Methane levels in the atmosphere in 2021 reached a record high of 1908 parts per billion. This is 262 per cent of the preindustrial era levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Agriculture, fossil fuels as well as solid waste and wastewater are the three major sources of methane.

Anthropogenic harm

Human activities release 350-390 million tonnes of methane annually. Emissions from the agriculture and fossil fuel energy sectors are around 120-140 million tonnes per year, roughly twice that of the waste sector.

Emissions are projected to rise by about 11 million tonnes annually by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario from the agriculture sector.

Emissions from fossil fuels and waste are estimated to go up by 10 million tonnes and 9 million tonnes respectively by the decade's end under the same scenario.

But the world could reduce emissions from these sectors by roughly 180 million tonnes per year (45 per cent) by 2030 using currently available measures, the findings stated.

The least-cost scenario requires reducing methane emissions by about 60 per cent from fossil fuels, 30-35 per cent from waste and 20-25 per cent from agriculture by 2030, compared to 2020. This can help contain global warming to 1.5°C — the goal set by the Paris Agreement, it added.

The report highlighted substantial uncertainties in tracing emissions to specific sub-sectors such as livestock or oil.

But this could change with recent advances, including in airborne, ground-based and satellite-based remote sensing, as well as collecting more emissions per activity data, it explained.

At CoP27, UN launched the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS) to track methane emissions. It will go live in January 2023. 

These developments, according to the report, will guide mitigation efforts more effectively, while also helping track changes in emissions over time as methane reduction policies are implemented.

Bright side

Preventing flaring and venting is also crucial, according to experts. During various stages of oil and natural gas development, operators burn associated gas or vent it into the atmosphere.

This practice emits more than 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, including methane and other pollutants, the World Bank said.

“If you turn this around, you have two wins: It is good for the climate and for solving the energy crisis,” Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European

Commission, said at the meeting held November 17, 2022.

Instead of flaring some of this gas, it can be conserved and used to generate power.

Using half of the gas flared annually for power generation could provide about 400 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — roughly the annual electricity consumption of sub-Saharan Africa, according to World Bank.

Timmerman also pointed out that the European Union was developing a new common agriculture policy with a budget of 389 billion euros.

Some 40 per cent of the budget, he added, is dedicated to climate action. A significant chunk will go to livestock and manure management — both key to methane reduction, he added.

The Global Methane Hub, a philanthropic fund to support methane mitigation, has raised $70 million to support critical research on reducing methane emissions from enteric fermentation — the largest single source of methane emissions from agriculture.

Enteric fermentation occurs in the digestive systems of ruminant animals such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and camels.

During digestion, microbes in the digestive tract release methane while breaking down the food and fibres, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

We want to see how to turn the political pledge into a scientific, technical and practical exchange to reduce methane emissions, Timmerman noted.

CoP27 President Sameh Shoukry called for the need to provide technical and financial support to developing countries willing to reduce their methane emissions.

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