Methane – a potent greenhouse fuel and the second largest driver of world warming after carbon dioxide (CO₂) – had its second within the highlight in 2021. Over 100 international locations signed on to the Global Methane Pledge to chop emissions by 30% in comparison with 2020 ranges by 2030.
This is a helpful purpose, however our new analysis reveals that one thing continues to be lacking: stringent insurance policies to remove methane emissions.
Our examine is the primary international evaluation of methane insurance policies which have been adopted the world over for the reason that Nineteen Seventies. It reveals that solely round 13% of artificial methane emissions from the largest sources (agriculture, power and waste) is regulated by insurance policies able to controlling and stopping them.
This falls to 10% if we take a conservative view of the full emissions and areas coated by particular insurance policies and whether or not they have been absolutely or partially applied.
These insurance policies could mandate firms to search out and repair methane leaks, set up tools which may seize emissions, cost them for each unit of methane launched or reward them for making use of methane, like extracting biogas from rotting meals and different natural waste. Our examine confirmed that almost all (70%) of insurance policies have been adopted within the US and Europe.
Methane is over 80 occasions extra highly effective in trapping warmth in Earth’s environment than CO₂ however lasts for a a lot shorter time. Since methane within the air breaks down inside a couple of decade (in comparison with centuries for CO₂), phasing out emissions may quickly scale back the speed at which the planet is heating.
For any hope of assembly international local weather targets, deep methane reductions are wanted instantly. Our analysis reveals that international locations which have dedicated to deep cuts should now broaden and strengthen insurance policies for eliminating their emissions. The remaining international locations ought to step up their efforts on methane too.
Regulation varies by sector
We systematically examined insurance policies which have been launched in 79 international locations to scale back methane emissions throughout farming, stable and liquid waste administration and the power sectors (together with the extraction, transportation and consumption of fossil fuels – coal, oil and fuel).
Motivations for regulating methane various. Not solely does the fuel contribute to local weather change, however it will possibly additionally generate tropospheric ozone – a dangerous air pollutant. Methane can be a security hazard if its focus within the air reaches an explosive vary (5-15%).
But whether it is captured, methane turns into a supply of power as the foremost element of pure fuel. And so regulating methane, for instance by incentivising the seize of methane from coalbeds, will be low-cost and helpful.
How efficient such insurance policies have been is way from clear although, as international locations don’t are likely to quantify their emissions utilizing direct measurements.
Regulations are extra steadily used to handle fossil (oil, fuel and coal) moderately than biogenic (livestock, stable and liquid waste) sources of methane. In truth, 41% of all insurance policies focused methane from coal mines and oil refineries, in contrast with 25% for farms and landfills.
Taxes and fees, on the portions of waste for instance, are extra widespread for regulating biogenic sources whereas monetary incentives, like feed-in tariffs for electrical energy generated from captured coal mine methane, are extra steadily utilized in fossil methane insurance policies.
Policies focusing on methane emissions from the oil and fuel sector are usually extra stringent than these focusing on coal mines. Similarly, insurance policies focusing on methane emissions from stable and liquid waste are extra stringent than these addressing livestock emissions.
These divergent approaches to regulating totally different methane sources could also be the results of opposition from the fossil gas and agricultural industries. The relative significance of those industries to nationwide and regional economies and power and meals provide may additionally clarify why authorities regulation has thus far proved insufficient.
Where regulation should enhance
More stringent insurance policies and a constant method for quantifying how a lot methane is being emitted from every supply will probably be key to bringing regulation consistent with international commitments.
Improving the monitoring of methane emissions is especially necessary for enabling deeper cuts. Historically, methane emissions have been troublesome and expensive to measure, partly as a result of it’s an invisible fuel and in comparison with CO₂, solely minor emissions trigger substantial warming.
However, methane discount continues to be usually perceived by policymakers as a alternative moderately than a mandatory complement to ongoing decarbonisation efforts centered on CO₂.
Within nearly each sector there are main methane sources which were largely ignored. These embrace the digestive gases of cows and different livestock, methane from the air flow shafts of coal mines, high-emitting sources within the oil and fuel sector (so referred to as super-emitters), and from deserted mines and oil and fuel wells.
In the power sector, emissions from non-operated joint ventures are significantly uncared for by regulation. This is a kind of enterprise construction the place an organization owns an fairness curiosity with out assuming day-to-day operational management.
These are normally owned by main oil and fuel firms, however operated by native companions – nationwide oil and fuel companies in creating international locations are a chief instance. Supply chains are one other necessary supply, significantly with internationally-traded commodities like liquefied pure fuel (LNG) and coking coal utilized in steelmaking.
In the oil and fuel sector, the place methane could also be less expensive to scale back as a result of the captured fuel could possibly be monetised, international commitments just like the Paris Agreement require the trade’s personal emissions to fall alongside falling demand for fossil fuels throughout all economies.
As Dr Fatih Birol, government director of the International Energy Agency, not too long ago put it, the following UN local weather change convention (COP28) within the United Arab Emirates will probably be “a second of reality” for each oil- and gas-rich international locations and the industries exploiting these climate-damaging fuels.
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Maria Olczak consults for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
Paul Balcombe has obtained funding from oil and fuel firms, environmental NGOs and analysis councils.
Andris Piebalgs doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.