A year ago, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) labeled it our “best chance” of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius: the target needed to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.
But 12 months later, a report by the UN environmental organization found that current emissions reductions pledged by countries worldwide “do not provide a credible path to 1.5°C” and that “rapid transformation of societies” will be needed to address the climate crisis. grab. The promises and commitments made in Glasgow have since been described as a “pathetic pace of change”.
All is not lost. One of the big successes at this year’s COP27 in Egypt was the announcement that another 50 countries were signing the Global Methane Pledge. First agreed last year in my hometown of Glasgow, it means that more than 150 countries – sadly, not counting China, India or Russia – have now pledged to cut methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 .
Such an achievement means investing in innovative, efficient technologies to identify and measure problematic emission sources. As it stands, a lack of legislative planning means this target is on track to be missed, with the European Commission admitting that the EU is only on track for a 23% reduction by the end of the decade.
And while methane emissions have fallen by more than 60% since 1990 in my home country, the UK, the pace has slowed in recent years. For the UK to play its part in the Global Methane Pledge by 2030, total methane emissions must be reduced by at least 72% from 1990 levels.
Why are methane emissions so important?
After carbon dioxide, methane is the main cause of global warming. Its impact on temperature increases is 80 times greater than that of CO2, with studies showing that the greenhouse gas is responsible for 20% – 30% of all global warming and a third of the warming caused by human activities.
Given that methane only stays in the atmosphere for ten years — compared to more than a century for CO2 — the Global Methane Pledge represents a critical short-term way for humanity to significantly curb global temperatures in our lifetime.
Indeed, methane is responsible for about a third of the 1.1°C increase in global temperature since the pre-industrial era, a rise fueling the more extreme weather patterns currently being experienced around the world.
And according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Observatory, emissions have risen 15% since the period 1984-2006 to the highest level ever recorded by modern instruments. But there is good news. Although emissions are at an all-time high, the technology humanity possesses to measure and track atmospheric methane has advanced dramatically.
In search of space to solve the planet’s problems
You cannot manage what you cannot measure. With the most accurate equipment to date, capturing and tracking methane emissions, particularly from space, has never been more accurate.
Despite Prince William’s claim prior to COP26 that the great minds of the world should focus on saving the Earth, not space travel, 50% of key climate change indicators can only be measured from space. And so it is beyond our atmosphere where efforts to fulfill the pledge by 2030 should be focused.
Earth observation satellites are now equipped with highly sophisticated laser systems, capable of capturing precise atmospheric data to measure the areas worst affected by methane emissions. These can then be used to create the pollutant “weather maps” needed to make decisions about where resources to fight climate change are best deployed.
Using advanced laser sources to observe atmospheric methane can also identify the source of the gas: in other words, whether it is the result of human activity.
This is done by measuring levels of carbon-13 isotope in atmospheric methane. Higher levels of this are present in methane that comes from fossil fuels, while less is found when the gas comes from biological sources, such as wetlands, livestock or landfills.
Research shows that the primary current sources of atmospheric methane are wetlands and ranching, which are driving the global increase in microbial emissions.
Indeed, in Europe, livestock is responsible for the bulk of the continent’s methane emissions. Using data to identify the source of the problem is the first step: the next is introducing legislative changes to directly address the problem.
What can be done?
To date, there has been a worrying lack of policy proposals from governments outlining how they plan to address the primary sources of methane emissions.
Practical options are available to not only meet the 30% target of the 2030 pledge, but also exceed it and reduce levels by almost half, according to a report by the Changing Markets Foundation.
Policies such as mandating methane-reducing feed for dairy cows, improving slurry management and encouraging the consumption of alternative proteins have the potential to reduce microbial emissions by 15%.
Other changes, including bringing forward a ban on landfilling biodegradable waste, requiring landfill operators to capture more biogas, and regulating the gas industry to end methane leaks, would cut emissions by a quarter over the next eight years. can reduce.
At COP26, the Global Methane Pledge established the need to significantly reduce methane emissions on the international agenda. Now we need world leaders to present a substantial framework for exactly how they intend to achieve this.
Graeme Malcolm, Ph.D, OBE, is the CEO and founder of M square lasers.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary are the opinions of their authors only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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