Methane, a greenhouse gas known to cause 80 times more damage to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO₂) over a 20-year period, is often overlooked in international climate protection regulations. In a review published in the journal One Earth on May 19, an international team of researchers look for the first time at the coverage, rigor, and real-world impact of current global methane emissions policies. The main conclusion is really worrying: only 13% of emissions are currently covered by direct mitigation policies.
To limit climate warming to 1.5ºC as directed by the Paris Agreement, global methane emissions must be reduced by at least 40-45%, according to the 2021 Global Methane Assessment, a goal the authors They say it can be done if governments adopt stricter methane control policies and measure emissions more precisely.
“The need for comprehensive and targeted methane mitigation strategies is highlighted in a growing body of literature. But methane emissions are rising faster than at any time since the 1980s,” write environmental policy experts Maria Olczak, Andris Piebalgs and Paul Balcombe of Queen Mary University of London/Environmental Defense Fund Europe, the School of Regulation of Florence of the European University Institute, and the Queen Mary University of London, respectively.
To determine how effective current methane emissions restrictions are, the team reviewed 281 policies in the highest methane-producing sectors, including energy, waste, and agriculture. They found that the number of methane policies varies dramatically between regions and that the policies currently in place are not stringent enough, largely because they were created based on inaccurate data.
Often, the methane emission estimates used by policymakers come from unreported greenhouse gas estimates, data sets that are not open to the public, or figures that vary substantially depending on the method used to measure the amount of methane. .
“A consistent approach to accurate identification, quantification, and verification of methane emission sources must be implemented, along with increased policy coverage and rigor to take advantage of significant methane emission reduction opportunities,” the researchers write. .
Mitigating man-made methane emissions is one of the cheapest ways to slow climate change and improve air quality, according to the Global Methane Assessment. However, the authors argue, progress will depend on a unified, global effort to limit methane emissions, and swift action must be taken at both the national and regional levels to meet climate targets.
“Effective methane mitigation requires greater social support and political consensus. However, methane reduction is still perceived as an option rather than a necessity that complements ongoing decarbonization efforts primarily focused on CO₂,” the researchers write. “The upcoming COP28 climate conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when collective progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement will be assessed for the first time, offers a tremendous opportunity for change.”