TSC Blog

October 14, 2021 / by Nahid Rashid / In Sustainability

Who will fight for methane’s necessary narrative at COP26?

In the month of October, TSC.ai will publish a series of weekly insights on emerging topics within the COP26 landscape and its 4 Goals to combat climate change — mitigation, adaptation, collaboration, and finance. On the basis of insights generated from TSC’s global sensing technology Atium, we will highlight the stories that are yet often overlooked but provide valuable guidance in reaching the Goals that this historic conference is looking to set.

COP26 is missing the big picture on emissions

COP26’s main mission is to create a framework that secures global net zero by mid-century1. A significant part of this effort seems to be focusing on lowering carbon emissions. In December 2019, COP 25 failed to conclude an agreement on the new rules governing the new global carbon market. With 3 weeks to go, all eyes are on COP26. The expectations are high as all participating nations have agreed to present plans to reduce their national-level carbon dioxide emissions by the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow2. Aiming to set the right example for this year’s COP, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced to fund an additional half a billion pounds towards the 100 billion dollar climate finance fund that COP26 is looking to secure3.

The strong focus on reducing carbon emissions is promising. However, we must not forget that in order to reach net zero by 2050, we have to take care of many other potent greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and industrial fluorinated gases including Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Even though methane is earth’s second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2), the public perception seems almost always solely focused on the latter. Despite methane being comparatively short-lived, over a 100 year- year period, methane is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth and over 20 years, that comparison jumped to approximately 86 times4. A UN Report concluded that even if all countries followed through on their current climate commitments (which heavily focus on carbon), the world would still hit 2.7 degree Celsius of additional warming by 2100 which is well above the current Paris agreement target of 1.5 degrees. This reiterates the importance of aggressive methane abatement policy at country level to deal with the climate crisis. The recently published IPCC Report has put methane reduction as a priority to fight climate change, citing that robust policies to reduce methane emissions are needed in addition to reducing CO2 in the next two decades to keep a 1.5C warming limit within reach. COP26 President Alok Sharma has earlier mentioned that methane ought to be an issue to discuss in the upcoming Glasgow. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is adamant to ride the wave of public attention, focusing his priorities on “coal, cars, cash and trees”. There are many signs that show methane will not be considered a top priority for the United Kingdom or COP265. However, not all hope seems lost.

Europe and the United States - a joint effort to push for methane’s role at COP26

Before providing some insight on a possible path forward for methane at COP26, we need to go back to the source of this potent greenhouse gas. Many studies have found that agriculture is by far the largest methane emitting sector is agriculture (almost 60%). Agriculture is followed by ‘Fugitive methane emissions’ from heavy industries including oil and gas exploration and transportation, while the third largest emitter is waste in landfills6. Where most of it comes from livestock through the process known as ‘enteric fermentation. The amount of methane emitted through ‘enteric fermentation’ is primarily dependent on the number of animals, the types of digestive system and the type and amount of feed consumed. The United Kingdom and the COP26 Presidency may not have put methane as a priority agenda item in Glasgow negotiations, however this does not mean that no other governments are stepping up in the mission to reduce methane emissions. In 2020, the EU adopted a strategy to reduce methane emissions in all key sectors including energy, agriculture and waste management. This year, the European Commission plans to propose legislation to measure, report, and verify methane emission, put limits on venting and flaring, and impose requirements to detect leaks, and repair them7. Across the Atlantic, the Biden administration has prioritized the reversal of President Trump’s complete disregard for climate policies. Methane is currently a key agenda item for multiple Federal agencies:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is imposing stronger pollution standards for landfills and promoting new regulations to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry at the President’s directive.
  • The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration is taking further steps for reducing methane leakage from pipelines and related facilities.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with U.S. farmers and ranchers to expand the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices to reduce methane emissions from key agriculture sources8.

The United States and European Union will be key to put the issue of methane emissions on the global agenda, not only in Glasgow but also far beyond COP26. On 18th September 2021, the United States and European Union announced the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative to reduce global methane emissions collectively by 30%. They are expected to launch a formal agreement in Glasgow in November. President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have urged the countries to join the Pledge and welcomed those countries that have already pledged their support for implementing stronger methane abatement. Apart from the US and the EU, 32 other countries have already joined the initiative so far. According to the World Resource Institute, seven of these countries are in the list of top 15 methane emitters globally and together account for over one-fifth of global methane emissions9.

There seems to be momentum, yet there is criticism. For example, Drew Shindell, Professor of Climate Science at Duke University and Chair of the Global Methane Assessment for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, concluded that the pledge to reduce 30% methane collectively appears to be intentionally ambiguous because there are no sectoral or individual country targets. According to the World Resources Institute, current models indicate that methane emissions need to be reduced by 35 to 37% by 2030 to reach its target to reduce the overall GHG emissions by 55%.

Reaching net zero - the private sector solutions getting it right

As with any aspect of combating climate change, policies alone will not be sufficient. When it comes to carbon emission reductions, many successful solutions are already in full swing - from carbon capture to soil carbon sequestration, and many more. Yet, when it comes to reducing methane emissions we do not seem to be as resourceful. Thankfully, there are innovative organizations that are currently developing breakthrough solutions in this space as well. Just to name a few:

  1. Royal DSM: The Dutch science-based company active in nutrition, health and sustainable living, has developed a feed additive for cows and other ruminants, Bovaer®, after 10 years of research. Independent research concluded that if Bovaer® is included in dairy cows diets, it has the potential to reduce methane emissions from 27% up to 40% of methane per cow, depending on the diet and the amount of methane inhibitor in the feed10. Various subsequent trials successfully indicated that Bovaer® can be included in the commercial feedlot diets to reduce methane emissions by up to 80% without having any negative impact on the anima’sl health11. Recently Royal DSM has secured regulatory approval for expanding the market of Bovaer® in Brazil, and Chile and DSM anticipates securing approval from several European nations later this year and the US in 202212.
  2. Mootral: This Swiss-British startup developed a supplement based on garlic and citrus extracts, which if mixed with regular cattle feed has the potential to reduce methane emissions more than 30%13
  3. Global philanthropic efforts: On 11th October 2021, more than 20 private philanthropic organizations, including William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, IKEA Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF)14,joined hands to fund more than $223 million to rapidly curb methane emissions around the globe. This funding is intended to support the US- EU led effort to cut methane emissions by 30% globally by 2030. To date, this is the largest unified private sector investment to fund, develop, and implement actionable solutions to tackle methane emissions.

There is hope. Now it is time to coordinate and align for impactful outcomes

Despite COP26’s apparent lack of focus on reducing methane emissions in its mission to reach net zero mid-century, significant steps are being made. However, efforts remain scattered and disputed. If this momentum can be kept, Glasgow could present a once in a lifetime opportunity to set ourselves up for climate success. It is now key to drive this loosely coordinated coalition of stakeholders including governments, industry players, scientists and funders, to impactful outcomes such as.

  • Solutions: The private sector has made huge steps in providing breakthroughs in a space where solutions are yet scarce. It is especially promising that such solutions are proving to reduce emissions by significantly more than 30%, and thus key in reaching net zero by 2050. COP26 has the potential to be the catalyzing moment in time to set conducive policies and unlock necessary funding for many more trailblazing solutions to be developed.
  • Commitments and policy setting: Current models indicate that the global methane emissions need to be reduced by 35 to 37% by 2030 if we are to reach our GHG emissions targets. The Pledge that is jointly led by the EU and US, only seeks to reduce methane emissions by 30% collectively.
  • Funding: To date, climate finance has been heavily focused on reducing carbon emissions. COP26 has the opportunity to ensure investment in a wide range of priority areas, including the reduction of methane emissions. The recent philanthropic funding efforts may be a promising example of “putting one’s money where one’s mouth is”. It is for the 100 billion climate fund to follow.
  1. https://ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/ 

  2. “Climate Change: What Is COP26, and Why Is It Happening in Glasgow in 2021? - CBBC Newsround,” BBC News (BBC), accessed October 12, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/51372486

  3. Heather Stewart, “Meeting COP26 Finance Goals ‘Going to Be Tough’, Says Boris Johnson,” The Guardian (Guardian News and Media, September 20, 2021), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/sep/20/meeting-cop26-finance-goals-going-to-be-tough-says-boris-johnson

  4. Rajendra Pachauri and Leo Meyer, “IPCC — Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” 2015, https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf

  5. Isabelle Gerretsen, “IPCC Report Prompts Calls to Tackle Methane Emissions at COP26,” Climate Home News (Climate Home, August 12, 2021), https://www.climatechangenews.com/2021/08/11/ipcc-report-prompts-calls-tackle-methane-emissions-cop26/

  6. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “Emissions by Sector,” Our World in Data, May 11, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector#methane-ch4-emissions-by-sector

  7. “Joint US-EU Press Release on the Global Methane Pledge,” The White House (The United States Government, September 18, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/18/joint-us-eu-press-release-on-the-global-methane-pledge/

  8. “Joint US-EU Press Release on the Global Methane Pledge,” The White House (The United States Government, September 18, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/18/joint-us-eu-press-release-on-the-global-methane-pledge/

  9. Johannes Friedrich, Mengpin Ge, and Andrew Pickens, “This Interactive Chart Shows Changes in the World’s Top 10 Emitters,” World Resources Institute, December 10, 2020, https://www.wri.org/insights/interactive-chart-shows-changes-worlds-top-10-emitters

  10. “Major Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Dairy Cows Proven in Dutch Trial of DSM’s Novel Feed Additive: DSM Animal Nutrition & Health,” @anh, January 28, 2021, https://www.dsm.com/anh/en_US/news-events/press-releases/2021/2021-01-28-major-reduction-of-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-dairy-cows-proven-in-dutch-trial-of-dsm-novel-feed-additive.html

  11. “Novel Feed Ingredient Enables Significant Reduction of Methane Emissions in Beef Cattle: DSM Animal Nutrition & Health,” @anh, December 16, 2020, https://www.dsm.com/anh/en_US/news-events/press-releases/2020/2020-12-16-novel-feed-ingredient-enables-significant-reduction-of-methane-emissions-in-beef-cattle.html

  12. Jack Ellis, “DSM Secures Approval for Methane-Busting Feed Additive in Brazil, Chile,” AFN, September 10, 2021, https://agfundernews.com/dsm-secures-approval-for-methane-busting-cattle-feed-additive-in-brazil-chile.html

  13. Nell Lewis, “This Supplement Can Reduce Methane in Cows and Make Farmers Money,” CNN (Cable News Network, May 18, 2021), https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/18/business/cow-burps-methane-feed-supplement-mootral-spc-intl/index.html

  14. “Leading Philanthropic Organizations Partner and Commit to over $223m to Reducing Methane Emissions,” Hewlett Foundation, October 11, 2021, https://hewlett.org/newsroom/leading-philanthropies-partner-and-commit-to-over-200m-to-reducing-methane-emissions/

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