Only about 13 percent of global emissions of the greenhouse gas methane are currently subject to a political reduction regulation. This is the result of a study that analyzed 281 regulations on methane emissions worldwide and compared them with data on methane emissions. In addition to the lack of coverage for methane emissions, another problem is that little is known about the effectiveness of existing regulations, writes a group led by Maria Olczak and Paul Balcombe from Queen Mary University in London in the journal One Earth.
The greenhouse gas methane heats the atmosphere about 80 times more than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 20-year period. But while CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, more than half of a given amount of methane is gone after a decade. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), methane is responsible for around 30 percent of global warming compared to the pre-industrial era.
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Methane reduction is a “necessary step”
“There is a tremendous opportunity to limit warming in the short term if we act quickly to get methane emissions under control,” Balcombe said in a statement from his university. Olczak and Balcombe’s team examined regulations in the fields of waste, agriculture, and natural gas, oil and coal extraction and processing. Almost half of the legal regulations relate to fossil fuels, 42 percent relate to methane of biological origin, such as from organic waste and agriculture. According to an analysis by the researchers, the requirements and their enforcement are the strictest for organic waste, less strict for oil and gas, followed by agriculture and coal.
Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific account for 90 percent of methane abatement regulations, while South America, Africa and much of Asia have little methane regulation. But even in countries with political guidelines for reducing methane emissions, the focus has usually been on reducing CO2 emissions. “Methane reduction is still seen as an alternative, rather than a necessary step, alongside CO2 reduction to combat global warming,” says Olczak.
Researchers call for guidelines for regulation
The researchers emphasize the value of establishing policies that are predictable and clear to the industries concerned. Ideally, they could help make investment decisions that are aligned with long-term mitigation scenarios. “To realize significant opportunities to reduce methane emissions, a consistent approach to accurately identifying, quantifying and verifying sources of methane emissions, as well as greater policy coverage and rigor (eg, measurable targets and enforcement) must be adopted,” the study authors write.
They are counting on the fact that increasingly precise satellite measurements of methane in the atmosphere can identify large sources of the gas and support politicians in regulating methane emissions. They also hope that the UNEP International Methane Emissions Observatory, established in 2021, and the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai 2023 (COP 28) will make progress in reducing methane emissions.