China, the world’s largest polluter and second-largest economy, has decided to tackle methane, the world’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after carbon dioxide (CO2).
The initiative was revealed earlier this month with the release of the Methane Emission Control Action Programme by the country’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, in association with 10 other ministries and departments.
The methane programme is China’s first policy document that specifically targets methane reduction, demonstrating its intentions to cut overall GHG emissions.
Methane’s global warming potential (GWP), a relative indicator that measures the ability of GHGs to cause global warming, is 100 times higher than CO2, the world’s largest and most watched source of GHG. However, as methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2, reducing methane from the atmosphere is an effective way to curb global warming, especially in the short term.
Worldwide, the agriculture sector emits the most methane (40%) into the atmosphere, according to International Energy Agency estimates, followed by that of the energy (37%) and waste (20%) sectors. For China, methane emitted from the energy sector is the most dominant, accounting for almost half of its total methane emissions, most of which emanates from the process of steaming and coking coal.
The programme announced by China aims to reduce methane emissions in areas leading into 2025 and 2030 by firstly strengthening its capacity in methane emission monitoring, accounting, reporting and verification. Secondly, it has chosen to emphasize controlling methane emissions in the energy, agriculture, garbage and sewage sectors – and of polluting discharges, in general. Thirdly, it aims to enhance technology, regulation and global cooperation relating to methane emissions.
While the programme, for the most part, is set out in qualitative language, it does list a few targets that have quantitative measures, without giving a baseline for figures. For example, in the energy sector, the programme states that it aims to have the annual use of coal mine gas reach 6 billion cubic metres by 2025. And, in the agriculture sector, it aims to have the comprehensive utilization rate of livestock manure reach more than 80% by 2025, and more than 85% by 2030.
Interestingly, the focus of these quantitative targets is not on methane abatement, but about more effective use of it through capture or recycle, making the programme more of an action plan for methane control rather than reduction.
Worldwide, the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) – a partnership of countries targeting methane reduction launched in 2021 at COP26, the annual United Nations climate change summit – agreed to reduce emissions by at least 30% by 2030, from 2020 levels. Among the world’s top 10 methane emitters, China, India, Russia and Iran did not join the GMP. Now, with the publication of China’s methane programme, it becomes the only country in the top 10 list of emitters and non-GMP participating countries that has a specific, detailed methane action plan.
China’s methane programme highlights its determination to fight climate change by targeting non-CO2 GHGs and is design to grab attention in the run-up to COP28, set to start at the end of this month in the in United Arab Emirates. The programme could well encourage other non-GMP participants to figure out their solutions for tackling methane emissions.
COP28 president-designate, and the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber praised China’s methane programme as a “critical step for global climate action”.