Cop26: Cutting methane should be a major aim, research suggests

Methane is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. Photograph: CATF/Reuters

Sharp cuts in methane from leaking gas drilling platforms and production sites could play a major role in the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to fulfill the Paris climate agreement.  The new research suggested that it also should be a key aim for the Cop26 UN climate talks.

  • According to the Energy Transitions Commission thinktank, cutting global emissions of methane by 40% by 2030 is achievable, with most cuts possible at low cost or even at a profit for companies such as oil and gas producers. It would be much of the shortfall in emissions reductions plans from national governments.
  • Ahead of Cop26, senior UN and UK officials have acknowledged in private that the major aim of the conference for all countries is to formulate plans called nationally determined contribution (NDCs), which would add up to a global 45% cut in emissions by 2030 will not be met.
  • Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. It is the biggest component of natural gas, used for fuel, and leaks can be caused by poorly constructed conventional drilling operations, shale gas wells, gas pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Methane is also flared from some oil production sites.
  • Instead of it can be done at a low cost, and can even be profitable for gas producers, especially now as the international gas price soars. Just a few key producers, Russia, the US, China, and Canada could make a massive impact.
  • However, the UK as hosts of the summit, to be held in Glasgow in November, still hope for enough progress to show that the world can still limit global heating to 1.5C, the aspiration of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
  • Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the ETC, said:

 “It is clear that if you add up NDCs they are not big enough to keep us to 1.5C. There is a huge gap left. But there are some actions that you can imagine groups of countries taking that could close that gap.”

The US and the EU recently have declared a partnership aiming at reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030, but Turner said more could be achieved and this would help to compensate for the relatively unambitious NDCs that many countries have.