Canada takes the lead on meth­ane emis­sions

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In the fight against cli­mate change, car­bon diox­ide at­tracts the bulk of reg­u­la­tors’ at­ten­tion. But while long-lived CO2 is a key con­trib­u­tor to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures, it is not the only cul­prit. Other short-lived su­per pol­lu­tants are also warm­ing the planet, and none is in greater need of reg­u­la­tion than meth­ane.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, meth­ane is 86 times more po­tent than CO2 as a heat-trap­ping gas over a 20-year pe­riod, and is re­spon­si­ble for about a fifth of the warm­ing caused by hu­mans. If the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is to have any chance of meet­ing tar­gets set by the Paris cli­mate agree­ment and keep global warm­ing well be­low 2C above prein­dus­trial lev­els, the con­trol of meth­ane must be a high pri­or­ity. At the mo­ment, how­ever, that is not hap­pen­ing on a global scale, and only a hand­ful of coun­tries – led most re­cently by Canada – have com­mit­ted to man­ag­ing meth­ane.

A re­cent re­port by the US Na­tional Academy of Sciences (NAS) called meth­ane an “in­trigu­ing” pol­icy prob­lem, be­cause there is no dom­i­nant cause. Re­cent spikes in emis­sions have been at­trib­uted to a va­ri­ety of sources, in­clud­ing for­est fires and fer­men­ta­tion in rice fields.

Mea­sur­ing meth­ane, in­clud­ing by us­ing to­day’s in­frared cam­eras, is chal­leng­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the NAS re­port, not even the United States has the tools to mea­sure, mon­i­tor and ac­count for meth­ane ef­fec­tively. But im­proved mea­sure­ment tools for de­tect­ing sources of meth­ane are on the hori­zon, and are be­ing suc­cess­fully tested in Cal­i­for­nia on low-fly­ing planes, with the goal of per­fect­ing the tools for use on satel­lites. Even as we im­prove our tools for de­tect­ing meth­ane leaks, we must pur­sue ag­gres­sive meth­ane re­duc­tions. If the world fol­lows the lead of methane­mit­i­ga­tion in­no­va­tors like Canada and Cal­i­for­nia, it is pos­si­ble to make fast and dra­matic re­duc­tions.

Three sec­tors need ur­gent reg­u­la­tory at­ten­tion, start­ing with the oil and gas in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency, im­prov­ing meth­ane cap­ture in the oil and gas value chain would be cheap and ef­fec­tive, given that roughly half of the sec­tor’s 76 mil­lion tons of an­nual meth­ane emis­sions re­sults from eas­ily con­tained leaks. And, be­cause meth­ane is ac­tu­ally a mar­ketable prod­uct, cap­tur­ing it can be achieved at no net cost.

Sec­ond, meth­ane emis­sions in agri­cul­ture, and es­pe­cially in live­stock farm­ing, need tighter con­trols. Here, too, im­proved man­age­ment has a strong eco­nomic ra­tio­nale. For ex­am­ple, man­dat­ing the use of meth­ane-cap­ture de­vices such as anaer­o­bic di­gesters would help farm­ers har­ness meth­ane from cat­tle and pigs, pro­vid­ing a re­new­able source of en­ergy gen­er­a­tion that could re­place fos­sil fu­els used to power equip­ment.

Fi­nally, gov­ern­ments at all lev­els should re­quire the cap­ture and use of meth­ane emit­ted by land­fills and waste­water treat­ment plants. With new methane­mea­sure­ment prac­tices, coun­tries, cities, and com­pa­nies could ad­dress sources of meth­ane that are eas­ily con­trolled, lay­ing the ground­work for tougher chal­lenges in the years ahead.

And yet, de­spite the avail­abil­ity of vi­able so­lu­tions, many coun­tries con­tinue to ig­nore the low-hang­ing fruit of meth­ane mit­i­ga­tion. Two years af­ter the US, Mex­ico and Canada pledged to take col­lec­tive ac­tion and re­duce meth­ane emis­sions from the oil and gas sec­tor, progress has stalled. In the US, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has ex­empted en­ergy com­pa­nies from meth­ane cap­ture dur­ing drilling, while Mex­ico has of­fered only non-bind­ing pledges.

For­tu­nately, Canada is go­ing in the other di­rec­tion. Canadian reg­u­la­tors just re­leased new rules aimed at re­duc­ing meth­ane emis­sions from the oil and gas in­dus­try by as much as 45% over the next seven years. These rules so­lid­ify Canada as a global leader in meth­ane-re­duc­tion ef­forts.

The rules also ad­vance Canada’s na­tional in­ter­ests. Pro­jec­tions for the Arc­tic show that the re­gion is warm­ing at twice the global av­er­age and is los­ing re­flec­tive sea ice at a stag­ger­ing pace. With­out this icy shield to re­flect heat back into space, warm­ing ac­cel­er­ates, per­mafrost melts, and an­cient stores of meth­ane and CO2 are re­turned to the at­mos­phere. Not only does this cy­cle drive up global tem­per­a­tures, it also threat­ens the sur­vival of Canada’s north­ern com­mu­ni­ties.

Canada may have an added source of mo­ti­va­tion for im­ple­ment­ing new meth­ane rules. But such rules amount to an op­por­tu­nity to help coun­tries and cities around the world recom­mit to meth­ane-mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies. When Canada hosts the G7 sum­mit in June, its lead­ers will have an op­por­tu­nity to ad­vance this agenda; they must take it. If the world is to meet the tem­per­a­ture tar­gets of the Paris ac­cord and slow the pace of warm­ing, ev­ery gas re­spon­si­ble for a warmer planet – not just CO2 – must be mea­sured and ap­pro­pri­ately man­aged.

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