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Turning COP26 methane promises into action

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  • Nov 17, 2021
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By Matt Watson

 

One of the biggest accomplishments from COP26 is the global consensus around the urgent need to reduce methane emissions. More than 100 countries representing more than two-thirds of the global economy promised to collectively reduce 30% of man-made methane emissions by 2030.

The agreement follows recent analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns there is no plausible pathway to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C without dramatic reductions in both methane emissions and carbon dioxide. We can’t get there through either pathway alone. We have to do both.

The new target is ambitious and achievable. But for the Global Methane Pledge to be credible, world leaders will have to move quickly from promise to action. Structures and processes will have to be built to drive multilateral cooperation, grow participation and withstand shifting political winds that will inevitably buffet individual countries from time to time.

To make the methane pledge a success, here’s what we’ll be looking for in the coming months.

A credible and well-resourced organizing body

The Global Methane Pledge can’t be achieved with players acting in isolation. The world will move farther, faster with countries and key stakeholders working together. A central body is needed to facilitate information sharing, channel technical resources to countries that are new to the game, and to convene conversations and launch projects with private sector and civil society partners.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition, with its long experience in bringing together countries, business and civil society to work on short-term climate forcers like methane, is a sensible hub for this work. To succeed, it needs to be fully resourced to take on this expanded role. This means CCAC partner states — especially higher-emitting and wealthier countries — will have to significantly step up their game on funding pledges, targeting that money directly at efforts to make the methane pledge a success.

A shared platform for data, planning and execution

The credibility of the pledge also requires a neutral, expert arbiter of emerging science and data to help improve and validate emission inventories, assist countries and companies in developing their emission reduction strategies and to track progress over time.

The newly launched International Methane Emissions Observatory is ready-made for just such work. As part of the UN Environment Programme’s ecosystem of methane efforts, IMEO is well positioned to asses and integrate data from the growing array of empirical sources – from satellites to ground-based scientific studies – and provide accurate, real-time, granular data to help inform planning and mitigation.

Capacity-building resources and structures

Many of the signatories to the methane pledge are just beginning the methane mitigation journey. They will need technical assistance to develop emission inventories, assess mitigation potential across the major methane sectors — energy, agriculture and waste — and to develop action plans. At the same time, we know that even the most well-resourced countries have room to improve and novel problems to solve.

It would make sense, therefore, to stand up a center for technical expertise at UNEP, perhaps within the CCAC, that can provide guidance and direct assistance to countries to help them make good on their methane pledge commitment. The initial focus should be on helping partner nations get country- and sector-level assessments and action plans in place. Over time, the center could also serve as a resource for helping partners develop regulatory frameworks and stand up major projects.

Project finance is another key area that will be essential to success of the pledge, especially for low-wealth nations. The key challenge here will be to assemble a centralized resource for project finance that is flexible and fast, streamlining the red tape that so often has caused worthy project ideas to stall under the weight of bureaucracy.

Accountability – to each other and the world

The next 12 months will determine whether the methane pledge delivers more than just media headlines. To make it real, methane needs to be front and center on the global stage going forward.

As an immediate next step, pledge participants and the central organizing body need to map out a year-by-year process for meeting the 2030 target, with deadlines for national and sectoral plan development, clear and concrete interim targets for emission reductions, and annual reporting mechanisms to track progress — including having the pledge be a central feature of COP gatherings every year between now and 2030.

These timelines will need to recognize that partner countries are starting from different places and that higher-emitting and wealthier countries have an obligation to move faster and make reductions commensurate with their share of the problem.

At the same time, there will need to be concerted diplomatic efforts to gain broader participation — including from major emitting countries like Australia, China, India and Russia — and to encourage greater ambition, such as Canada’s recent commitment to reduce oil and gas methane by 75%.

There is much work to be done and no time to waste.  But the opportunity is enormous.  Working together, the global community can tackle methane and do more in the next few years than can be done through almost any other effort to immediately hit the brakes on climate change.

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