IEA (2022), Global Methane Tracker 2022, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/global-methane-tracker-2022, License: CC BY 4.0
The Global Methane Pledge
The Global Methane Pledge was launched at COP26 in November 2021 to catalyse action to reduce methane emissions. Led by the United States and the European Union, the Pledge now has 111 country participants who together are responsible for 45% of global human-caused methane emissions. By joining the Pledge, countries commit to work together in order to collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.
Meeting the Global Methane Pledge target has the potential to make an enormous impact on climate change, similar to the entire global transport sector adopting net zero emission technologies (see Methodology). Action will be particularly important in the period up to 2030 because sharp cuts in methane can deliver a net cooling effect within a relatively short period. This could keep the door open to a 1.5 °C stabilisation in global average temperatures, while the world pursues lasting reductions in CO2.
The Global Methane Pledge has brought together many important players in a joint international effort, including both major consumers like the European Union, Japan, Korea, and major producers such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia. For some countries, the Global Methane Pledge represents the first significant policy commitment on methane, either at the domestic or international level.
As always with climate action, implementation is key. The text of the Global Methane Pledge states that the participants intend to review progress through annual ministerial meetings. The Pledge is non-binding and individual countries are not assigned targets. The United States and the European Union have asked all Global Methane Pledge participants to develop or update a national methane reduction action plan by COP27, but the Pledge does not specify additional actions or steps they are expected to take.
The shared goal is a targeted reduction in global emissions, even though some of the most important players have not yet joined, including China, India and the Russian Federation. It will be critical for participants to engage with countries that have not joined the Pledge in order to achieve the overall target. There are substantial opportunities for engagement with these countries. For example, in the US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration, China committed to develop a “comprehensive and ambitious National Action Plan on methane, aiming to achieve a significant effect on methane emissions control and reductions in the 2020s.”
On the practical side, a key challenge will be establishing a common baseline to measure progress. Not all countries have prepared a detailed UNFCCC inventory for 2019, while many others reported levels that do not match what was recorded by measurement campaigns. Some countries regularly update their inventories based on longstanding reporting frameworks that require companies to submit emissions data, such as the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program in the United States. Companies in these countries are working to improve measurement and monitoring. Other countries do not prepare annual inventory updates and may not have conducted national inventories in many years due to capacity or resource constraints. These considerations are explicitly recognised in the UNFCCC reporting framework, which has different requirements for Annex I and non-Annex I countries.
The lack of an accurate baseline should not deter action to begin reducing emissions. There are a number of known solutions, described here, that can be implemented immediately, even with imperfect information.
Despite these practical and political challenges, there is still great potential for the Global Methane Pledge to catalyse action at the national level. Even without an accurate baseline, there are measures that can gauge progress – including whether countries have implemented new policy measures to improve measurement and encourage abatement.
Participants are not starting from the same place. Canada, for example, has announced an ambitious target to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by at least 75% from 2012 levels by 2030. This comes after its commitment in 2016 to reduce these emissions by 40-45% from 2012 levels by 2025, which was followed by the adoption of national regulations on the oil and gas sector and a progress report in 2021. Meanwhile, the Netherlands established an offshore methane emissions reduction programme in 2018 to halve methane emissions within two years, after its oil and gas sector had already cut its methane emissions by almost 70% from 1990 levels. At the other end of the spectrum, Indonesia, Nigeria and Iran have not submitted detailed UNFCCC greenhouse gas inventory data since 2000, and many other countries are considering the issue of methane emissions for the first time.
For those countries where data is lacking, improving their inventory methodologies and ensuring comparability – incorporating direct measurement where possible and developing facility and source specific emissions factors – will be an important marker of early progress. Indeed, the Global Methane Pledge commits countries to move “towards using the highest tier IPCC good practice inventory methodologies.” As data and measurement processes improve, comparisons across countries will become easier. In the meantime, modelling-based estimates can help fill this gap and inform progress tracking. Countries should also commit to regularly updating their UNFCCC inventories, particularly those that have not done so in many years.
Some countries may be able to show measurable, verifiable reductions in emissions within a few years, and their progress should be measured by demonstrable reductions. However, it may be several years before most countries can comprehensively track emissions reductions with the needed confidence. Until then, there are a number of actions that could signal progress. These could include:
- Developing national action plans or strategies that identify specific actions to encourage emissions reduction, define timelines and assess needed resources;
- Proposing new policies or regulations aimed at methane emissions, including measures like leak detection and repair programmes, technology and equipment standards, limits on flaring and venting, and measurement and reporting requirements;
- Adopting national reduction targets, whether economy-wide or sectoral, to establish a political commitment, signal expectations and enable better planning;
- Participating in a super-emitter rapid response system based on satellite detections, which would establish communication channels to ensure large emissions events are addressed in a timely manner;
- Updating national greenhouse gas inventories on a regular basis and working to improve their quality (e.g. based on UNFCCC tiers), using emissions factors based on local measurements to enable a better assessment of emission sources; and
- Directing funding towards research and development on abatement and measurement technologies and support for verifiable mitigation projects through grants, targeted finance or other incentives.