Global Methane Pledge Sees Surge — And Why It Matters

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The Global Methane Pledge (GMP) has expanded its ranks to 130 nations at COP27, while gaining a surge of support through country-level action plans, technological initiatives and financial moves from multilateral development banks and others. Signatories to the GMP promise to collectively cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030 versus 2020 levels. The 130 members cover an estimated half of global methane emissions and two-thirds of the global economy. GMP focuses most heavily on oil and gas sector methane leaks, flaring and venting, but also covers methane from other sectors such as agriculture and waste.

So why is the GMP significant? In the view of its organizers, reaching the 30% target successfully would result in a cut in global temperatures of at least 0.2°C by midcentury, said Claire Wang, senior policy adviser to US presidential climate envoy John Kerry. That would represent a decent chunk of the broader task of limiting the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C below preindustrial levels, the target most climate advocates are aligning behind. "Methane is the fastest way to reduce global temperatures in the near term," she told a press briefing at COP27.

Just as crucially, GMP members see their first step as stopping the current trend, in which methane is expected to increase by up to 13% by 2030 from 2020 levels around the world under a business-as-usual scenario. "Our task is first in bending that curve, so we can slow the rate of increase and then result in actual reductions," Wang told reporters. Despite some progress in achieving finance for methane-cutting projects, a "readjustment of financial flows" is still needed, Wang said. "Only 2% of global climate finance is dedicated to methane reduction. This is still woefully insufficient."

Expanding Ranks

North American countries have perhaps taken the biggest steps forward during COP27. In the US — previously criticized for dragging its feet on methane action — President Joe Biden announced a new regulatory proposal aimed at reducing methane emissions from the US oil and gas sector, with specific rules for some equipment. The goal is a reduction in methane emissions of up to 87% versus 2005 levels by 2030. Further, Canada's government proposed a new framework aimed at a 75% reduction in methane emissions from the oil sector by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. And Mexican state oil producer Pemex will work with the US Environmental Protection Agency to reduce its oil and gas sector emissions, according to a US statement. Elsewhere, Nigeria unveiled new methane guidelines for its upstream oil and gas industry at COP. These require leak detection and repair measures and state that venting devices must have controls or be replaced with zero-emissions equipment.

Finding the Source

Of course, many have said that the first step to cutting methane leaks is to pinpoint where they originate. Although methane monitoring and detection initiatives have emerged from Kayrros, Methane SAT and others, the oil and gas industry is still criticized for not doing enough. Recent trends in methane emissions are “really worrying to be honest,” Mike Hemsley, deputy director of the Energy Transitions Commission, told Energy Intelligence at COP27. “Methane emissions are “really badly tracked and we may be underestimating them by 70%,” he said. “Sometimes we don't even know where they are coming from.”

The GMP represents progress, as does the “quite hefty” methane included in the US Inflation Reduction Act, Hemsley said. Aiming to address the monitoring problem, the UN Environment Programme announced its Methane Alert and Response System at COP27 — a satellite that will alert governments and industry to sources of methane emissions. The focus will be on the oil and gas sector initially, but will later be extended to cover coal, waste, livestock and rice.

Some initiatives launched at COP27 involve many partners, which is unsurprising given the scale of the challenge. Egypt agreed to reduce methane emissions from its oil and gas sector as part of a broader agreement with the US, Germany and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to reduce emissions. Separately, the US, EU, Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore and the UK announced an initiative to reduce methane and carbon emissions from fossil energy value chains by focusing on eliminating routine venting and flaring, conducting regular leak detection, and repairing energy infrastructure. Environmental groups voiced frustration with the lack of specifics. The initiative comes as companies have been signing up for monitoring programs to obtain certification that their products are "responsibly sourced."

Rickety Bridge

Methane emissions have attracted mounting public attention, and while gas is still viewed as a bridge fuel by some important players, it's clear that bridge has grown more rickety. Climate Bonds Initiative head Sean Kidney pointed to “terrible spikes of methane in the last 10 years," adding that the situation has grown worse with Russia burning off large amounts of gas. “So we have an extraordinary expansion of methane, which is a risk factor for any field going forward,” he told Energy Intelligence at COP27. “If you go into gas, that's 30 years of locked-in assets, stranded assets."

Similarly, an adviser to the hugely influential Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, James Vaccaro, said not enough time exists for new gas assets to go through the planning stages and then take advantage of their useful lifetime before 2050, the year in which widespread alignment is rallying around a net-zero economy. “Before, people were saying, 'let's just do coal to gas switching, because it's an intermediate solution; it will buy you a few years of not doing the worst thing you can do [coal]. There was a case for gas having been a transition fuel,” Vaccaro told Energy Intelligence at COP. “I don't think gas can possibly be argued as a transition fuel anymore.”

Gas' image has also taken hits as a result of the energy crisis in Europe, and a telling example is Ukraine's efforts to pivot significantly toward renewables. The country depends on coal and natural gas, which represents a quarter of the country’s energy mix. "Our country is preparing for a future centered around renewables, which has been the focus of much of our investment for many years," says Antonina Antosha of big Ukrainian energy investor DTEK. "The new energy system of Ukraine will be based on carbon-neutral sources — nuclear energy and renewable energy sources, as a significant part of Ukraine's post-war rebuilding plan. This is not only about the future of Ukraine; it is about the reinvention of European energy security," Antosha told Energy Intelligence. Ukraine envisions itself serving as a "reliable partner" in supplying renewables to Europe — with Antosha pointing to Global Wind Energy Council data showing that almost half of Ukraine's land is well-suited for wind energy.

Yet gas suppliers say that continued gas demand necessitates the need for a balanced approach to investment going forward. Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne, while speaking at a Saudi Arabian-sponsored event at COP, repeated his call that "gas is a transition, it completes the intermittency of renewables,” adding that if the industry doesn't invest enough, it will be “accused of causing scarcity and the oil and gas price will go up higher and higher.” Similarly, United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nayhan told the UN COP proceedings that his country is “ known as a responsible supplier of energy, and will continue to play this role for as long as the world needs, oil and gas" while "lowering carbon emissions emanating from this sector.”

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