Methane was a top focus during the first week of COP26 and for good reason. As world leaders grapple to hold global temperature rise to 1.5°C, mitigating methane emissions is a powerful way to slow global warming. This potent greenhouse gas is 120-times more climate forcing as CO2 as soon as it is emitted. This fact has been largely been ignored—until now.
A series of pledges announced at COP are finally taking aim at addressing methane emissions in a coordinated fashion. World leaders from 109 countries pledged to reduce global methane emissions 30% by 2030 as part of the Global Methane Pledge. We saw the U.S. EPA announce proposed new rules to tackle methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas infrastructure. The US also rolled out a cross-government Methane Action Plan spanning all methane emission sectors. And this week, the U.S. and China signed an agreement to accelerate emissions reductions, including pledges to cut methane pollution and phase down coal consumption.
Pledges are a critical first step, but now begins the hard work to translate these pledges into action. The good news is we can’t and don’t need to wait to get to work. Governments and businesses can start now by leveraging and expanding emerging measurement and monitoring programs to help reevaluate methane emissions baselines, guide mitigation, track and report their emissions, and hold themselves and each other accountable.
Why monitoring matters
Historically, measurement of methane emissions has not happened at the scale, speed, or frequency required by the urgency of the climate crisis. You can’t manage what you don’t measure—and precise, sustained visibility and awareness of super emitters across all sources at the country, state, community, and facility levels is key to driving focused actions to reduce emissions.
To make the invisible visible—and therefore actionable—there is a growing ecosystem of public and private actors putting out a complementary constellation of satellites and data platforms that together can deliver direct, continuous, transparent, global greenhouse gas monitoring.
The space race to save the climate
Several of these actors (MethaneSAT, Carbon Mapper, GHGSat, and Kayrros) participated in a panel discussion at COP26 to discuss the growing wave of methane-detecting satellites which are designed to improve global methane measurement, each with their own distinct capabilities and purposes.
Multiple developments in this space (pun intended) are promising because these systems are like ‘puzzle pieces’ that fit together in a broader, systematic approach to monitoring.
“There is no swiss army knife for emissions monitoring because the sources we must track are so different. We need different observing systems to see the whole elephant” said Riley Duren, Carbon Mapper CEO. “In addition to satellites, we are always going to need ground-based measurements, airborne measurements, and different techniques. What is most exciting is that the systems today are giving us a level of insight that we can act on now.”
RMI is developing an insight brief and interactive web tool assessing the key attributes of how satellite systems function, and how this relates to their methane monitoring capabilities. This assessment will better aid policymakers to understand where gaps still exist, and what information is currently available.
Translating data into action
Time is running short to meet emission reduction targets – with just over eight years left in this decisive decade. Beyond deployment of operational monitoring systems like Carbon Mapper and related programs, there is a critical need to accelerate the translation of advanced methane data into action. Success stories of methane detection and rapid mitigation should instill confidence among leaders at upcoming COPs that data completeness and transparency can yield meaningful emissions reductions and a positive climate impact.
The California Air Resources Board is already using data from NASA and Carbon Mapper aerial surveys with voluntary participation by facility operators to successfully reduce methane emissions from super-emitting landfills, oil and gas fields, and natural gas infrastructure across the state.
Additionally, organizations like RMI are using emissions data to differentiate oil and gas based on their emissions intensity. MiQ, created by RMI and Systemiq, is an independent certification differentiating producers based on their methane emissions performance and incentivizing businesses to improve because it simply makes good climate – and business – sense. MiQ is in the process of certifying methane emissions from 10% of all U.S. oil and gas, and increased pick up by oil and gas companies that operate globally—aligning markets to support the Global Methane Pledge. Broader adoption across global value chains is sure to accelerate monitoring programs like Carbon Mapper come online.
Yet, these are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Beyond motivated actors like the State of California, there are still many high-emitting jurisdictions and businesses that have yet to come forward with mitigation commitments, and/or may not know this data is available,” continued Duren. “We must educate them that these tools are available and help them understand and translate the data to action.”
This is true for the ‘shovel’ ready sectors, like oil and gas where there are known solutions to curbing methane, as well as tougher sectors like agriculture or waste management which are more difficult to mitigate but will become easier as visibility improves.
In short, governments and businesses have an opportunity to act now and leverage these efforts to help guide and verify the actions needed to significantly reduce methane emissions in the near term necessary to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change.