Methane cuts

Global Methane Initiative, could be made more effective.

Some thoughtful climate scientists and policymakers have long been aware of the opportunities that methane cuts pose. Many see them as a way of ‘buying time.’ The U.S. EPA called its first such program Methane to Markets, and all of these programs have been based on similar market models. They were not initially designed to address the planetary emergency that is now unfolding, and have not been adequately altered since. Instead, they have been designed to work as well as their business models would be expected to work – and even at that, they have not proven to be stellar business successes.

What we need now is for the public to become much more engaged. There are two main avenues of getting better results – 1.) increasing the target sources, and 2.) speeding up the reductions of those targets. Most important is to demand that governments compress these programs’ timelines, not see them as a cheap way to buy themselves more time. There is absolutely no reason that the methane cuts envisioned in these programs for the next twenty to thirty years (roughly totaling 130 million metric tons methane per year) could not be undertaken in less than ten. Unlike pie-in-the-sky calls to drop to zero CO2 emissions in just a few years, this is not an unreasonable goal, if the economic framework of the programs can be completely restructured, and so constitutes the easiest way to greatly improve the impacts of these programs. But this would demand a new and quite different economic framework – and that will demand pressure from YOU, the public.

1250 aims to do three things for such methane reductions – advocate, innovate and accelerate. 1250 wants to increase public attention on existing mitigation programs and their potential, in order to help build greater momentum and greater public pressure for more rapid action and for more ambitious targets. The group also aims to help inform relevant policymakers on the importance of such programs to aid in near-term climate control. 1250 also intends to explore innovative approaches for these programs to solve the inherent problems they have faced thus far.

Aside from speed, the other thing to explore is expansion of the emissions pool targeted for reduction. In the evolution of these methane abatement programs, there has been gradually increasing acceptance of wider sources of target methane for reduction. For example, wastewater treatment remained outside of the original four categories of the Methane to Markets program (which were landfill, coal, agricultural waste, and oil & gas sectors), but has since become accepted in current programs. Interestingly, in California’s groundbreaking Greenhouse Gas Law, AB 32, which recently came into effect, amendments for inclusion of methane from rice cultivation will be included (for credit within its cap-and-trade regulation). This suggests that the potential of near-term reductions could grow substantially, especially if both rice cultivation and enteric fermentation – i.e., measures to reduce such cattle emissions by altering cattle feed – could become more widely accepted for inclusion in larger methane abatement programs. It might be relatively easy, in such case, given that these two sectors alone make up such a large portion of total anthropogenic methane emissions, to increase the near-term target from about a 33% reduction to almost a 50% reduction.

The first decade of research in the field explored practical and pragmatic ways of making substantial reductions in human-caused methane emissions, and Hansen’s formative 2000 paper, Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario assumed reductions of about 30% spread out over the first half of the century. The U.S. EPA began its Methane to Markets Partnership program in 2004, with fourteen countries involved. In 2009, at the time of the Copenhagen conference, Sir Robert Watson, former Chair of the IPCC, announced the founding of the Global Methane Fund, or GMF. Soon afterwards, the GMF joined with Methane to Markets to form the Global Methane Initiative, or GMI, which launched in 2010 with 38 countries participating. In 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the founding of the CCAC (Climate and Clean Air Coalition), a program combining black carbon and methane emission reductions together, closely following a major scientific assessment by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), chaired by Drew Shindell of NASA, which essentially updates the original Hansen ‘alternative scenario’ paper. The coalition quickly grew to include 27 countries and 55 partners, became part of UNEP, and now Dr. Shindell has become a chief scientist for the program. These have all been very positive steps.

Unfortunately, however, very little has actually been accomplished thus far, and 1250 studies how these programs might specifically be reconfigured for real success, making recommendations to policymakers.

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