Rapid action to curb methane could cut emissions of the climate-busting greenhouse gas in half by 2030 and slow global warming by 30%, new research concludes this week, just days ahead of a United Nations report that will call for urgent methane reductions to keep the targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement within reach.
News of both studies landed just as the United States Senate used the no-longer-obscure Congressional Review Act Wednesday to reverse a regulatory rollback introduced by Donald Trump and “effectively reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to clamp down on emissions of methane,” the New York Times reports.
“This is the most important climate vote that the Senate has had, maybe ever,” said Sen. Angus King (I-ME).
This week’s study, which appeared in the journal Environmental Research Letters, “calculated that a full-scale push using existing technologies could cut methane emissions in half by 2030,” the Washington Post reports, delivering a crucial boost to the global effort to keep average global warming “well below” 2.0°C. “In human terms, that could translate into fending off the most severe sea level rise, preventing more profound damage to animal habitats and ecosystems, and delaying other extreme climate impacts,” the Post says.
“If we really scale up methane reductions, we could have tangible benefits during our lifetime,” said lead author Ilissa Ocko, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “If you were to take these actions and cut as much methane as you could, you would see a clear benefit in the amount of warming we would avoid.”
While “people talk about net-zero in 2050,” she added, “what the temperature will be in 2050 will be determined by what we do now.”
Ocko told the Post a full-scale assault on methane emissions would take different forms. “It would include clamping down on oil- and gas-related leaks, cleaning up abandoned coal mines, expanding the use of feed supplements for cattle that could reduce methane from their belches, and more broadly deploying technologies to capture emissions from landfills,” the paper writes. “Such an approach, the authors found, has the potential to prevent nearly a half-degree Fahrenheit of warming by mid-century—an amount that sounds small but that could help avoid serious climate fallout.”
Failing to seize the opportunity will mean even worse climate impacts by 2050, the Post says, citing the study. “While it is essential to minimize warming over the coming decades in addition to the long term, we are currently on a path that supports either slow or delayed action on methane despite numerous readily available and affordable mitigation measures,” Ocko and her colleagues wrote. “It is therefore possible that we are situated to miss an unmatched opportunity to slow down the rate of warming.”
Next week’s Global Methane Assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition will underscore the need for methane action this decade, Euractiv writes, citing a draft of the report seen by the Reuters news agency. “Methane provides an opportunity for a win on climate change in the very near term,” said Jonathan Banks, international director for methane at the Clean Air Task Force. But by the same token, “there’s no chance whatsoever to meet our climate targets if we don’t deal with the methane emissions that this report highlights.”
The report attributes 40% of human-caused methane emissions to agriculture, 35% to fossil fuels, and 20% to landfills, Euractiv says, and concludes that the fossil industry will have the greatest methane reduction potential in the course of this decade.
“Around 80% of no-cost actions come from the oil and gas industry,” EDF said. “In each of the scenarios analysed, nearly a third of that would come from top oil and gas producers meeting their agreed-upon targets to reduce upstream leakage.”
The U.S. Senate vote came after campaigners urged President Joe Biden to target methane emissions for a quick win on climate. Now, “passage of the measure in the House next month is considered pro forma, as is Mr. Biden’s signature. And with Donald J. Trump’s regulation out of the way, the Obama methane rule would go back into force,” the Times writes.
“That rule, released in 2016, had imposed the first federal limits on methane leaks from oil and gas wells, requiring companies to monitor, plug, and capture leaks of methane from new drilling sites.”
In the end, the vote in the deeply-divided Senate passed 52-42, with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Rob Portman of Ohio voting in favour.
“Once the president signs it, this will be the first move by Congress and this administration to actually put climate policy back on the books,” said Dan Grossman, EDF’s director of legislative and regulatory affairs.
The Times has more on the response from Republican senators and U.S. fossil producers.