China has drafted a plan to reduce methane emissions and the United States has pledged to help, but climate campaigners say the country’s biggest methane culprits—coal mines and livestock—have yet to be addressed.
“China is a major emitter of methane, and its plan is seen as significant progress toward keeping global warming within the 2015 Paris Agreement goal,” reports Bloomberg.
“It comes a year after the nation agreed in a joint declaration with the U.S. to outline its strategy for cutting methane releases, which are heavily tied to coal mining operations and agricultural activities in the country.”
But the plan—unexpectedly announced by China’s climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua during a Global Methane Pledge meeting at Egypt’s COP 27—will focus on cutting methane emissions along the oil and gas supply chain and those generated by agriculture and urban waste, reports Voice of America (VOA). Xie said his country would also work to improve its methane monitoring systems, but he made no mention of coal.
Analysis shows 38% of China’s methane emissions come from coal mining, while 24% come from livestock, 16% from rice paddies, 7% from landfills, 5% from wastewater management, 2% from oil and gas systems, and 8% from “other sources.”
China’s methane draft—currently awaiting legislative approval—is the outcome of a “flurry of diplomacy” with the U.S. last year, which led the two countries to promise joint action on methane reductions, grid decarbonization, illegal deforestation, circular economy measures, and “enhanced climate actions,” during the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Xie cited the several months spent in dialogue with his American counterpart, John Kerry, as he announced the draft, describing the U.S. climate envoy as his “very good friend” who had encouraged him to “come out and share with you our thoughts on methane reduction.”
Kerry, for his part, praised China for “engaging on this really critical topic.” He also confirmed America’s willingness to help China through the technical challenges of reining in its methane emissions, reports Bloomberg.
One of those challenges is monitoring emissions. The technology for monitoring from space “is still being improved upon and developed upon,” Scot Miller, assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told VOA.
“One real area for collaboration is to put scientific expertise together to figure out how we can make the most of these satellite observations and how we can continue to help advance this technology by leaps and bounds.”
He added that China’s abandoned coal mines are an urgent matter, with recent studies showing they leak more methane than active mines.
“Currently, the most effective way to seal coal mines and prevent methane from leaking is to slowly flood them, but local media report that China does not have a mechanism or policies for handling abandoned mines,” VOA writes.
So far, China has declined to commit to the Global Methane Pledge, launched last year at COP 26, or the Joint Declaration from Energy Importers and Exporters on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fossil Fuels, launched in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, during COP 27. The Methane Pledge commits signatories to collectively reduce global methane emissions 30% below 2020 levels by 2030, but it has been criticized as being insufficient without a concomitant and rapid phaseout of coal. The latest Joint Declaration is seen as a “paper tiger” that adds nothing new to methane reduction efforts, according to Climate Action Network-Europe and Environmental Action Germany.
But a China that gets serious about tackling livestock emissions would be something significant, said Ben Lilliston, director of rural and climate strategies for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy Institute. As the world’s biggest meat producer and consumer, the country has “a critically important role” to play.
“It will be very difficult to reach the 30% by 2030 goal outlined in the Global Methane Pledge, without China’s active participation,” Lilliston said.