methane flaring

Most methane emissions unregulated despite climate impact, study finds

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Only around 13 per cent of global methane emissions are regulated despite the fact that they cause at least 25 per cent of current global warming, researchers have said.

A team from Queen Mary University of London (QMU) found that little is known about the effectiveness of the policies that exist, with potentially unrepresentative methane emission estimations used rather than actual measurements.

Inaccurate estimations can also mean the issue is taken less seriously by decision-makers by masking its severity.

The researchers argue that the lack of regulation and clarity into their impact must urgently be addressed if the world is going to meet climate targets.

Another study from 2022 found that global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70 per cent greater than the amount national governments have officially reported. Enhanced monitoring efforts and stronger policy action were called for to drive down emissions of the greenhouse gas which is roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, albeit with a shorter lifespan for its effects.

To meet the Paris Agreement 1.5°C objective, it has been argued that human-made methane emissions should be reduced by at least 40-45 per cent by 2030, compared to the 2020 levels. Methane mitigation is seen as a particularly cost-effective strategy due to its outsized effect on climate change.

The QMU researchers said their review of methane policies is the first to systematically look at all major man-made emission sources, agriculture, energy and waste. The researchers focused on 281 policies worldwide, 255 of them currently in force, that aim to monitor and reduce methane emissions examining the geographical coverage, strength and effectiveness of the policies.

Globally, the research shows there has been a gradual increase in methane policies since 1974. But fossil methane policies, targeting emissions from coal, oil and gas sectors tend to be less stringent than those targeting biogenic methane sources, especially in the waste sector.

One of the main challenges to measuring methane emissions is accurately identifying and quantifying sources. Developing and using technologies such as satellites to monitor methane emissions can help policymakers to force different industries to comply.

The researchers said that introducing policies with greater policy coverage, mitigation solutions including for major sources, and measurable objectives could lead to a significant methane emissions reduction.

Maria Olczak, lead researcher, said: “Methane reduction is still perceived as a choice rather than a necessary step alongside CO2 reduction to combat global warming. And with so many different sources, there needs to be stronger social support and the political will to act.

“Our review highlights the value of setting policies that are predictable and clear for the industry. They will aid effective investment decisions aligned with the long-term climate mitigation goals, including the decrease in emission intensity and in production across developed and developing economies.”

Dr Paul Balcombe, study author, said: “It’s shocking to see that most methane emissions aren’t regulated when they contribute heavily to global warming today, although accurately monitoring emissions is not easy. Our chances of reaching global climate targets are slim if this goes unchecked.”

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