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Opinion

COP28: three key methane-related expectations

COP28 could see momentum gather behind methane abatement action – so what should we expect from major emitters, and who will lead the way in new methane reduction commitments?

3 minute read

Stephen Vogado

Senior Analyst, Carbon Policy

Stephen focuses on carbon policy, taking a data-driven approach to help clients navigate the energy transition.

View Stephen Vogado's full profile

Methane should be front and centre in the discussions taking place at COP28. As highlighted in our recent Horizons report, it’s a key greenhouse gas, with 28 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide in the 100-year horizon.

Last year, COP27 saw action on methane abatement gather some momentum. Only five additional countries signed up to the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) – which aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade – during the conference. But this took the total number of country endorsements to 150, up from around 100 after COP26.

While the EU recently agreed a deal on its first-ever methane-reduction law, elsewhere there has been little progress by countries to convert pledges into legislation. Political resistance and industry push-back has hampered some jurisdictions that have introduced methane regulations.

However, we expect to see steps taken towards binding agreements at COP28. Here’s why:

1. The foundations have been laid for China and the US to announce a breakthrough on a new climate agreement

China published its long-awaited methane reduction plan earlier this month, paving the way for a new climate agreement between the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters.

While China’s methane action plan was short on firm targets, it has formed a key part of China-US climate negotiations ahead of COP28. As the culmination of months of talks, the methane plan points to renewed cooperation on climate targets between the two economic giants, which could produce something more concrete at the upcoming summit.

So what? Responsible for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, China and the US have the ability to lead the global energy transition. Breakthroughs in China-US alignment have a habit of rippling out into other major international agreements. An Obama-Xi summit in 2014 led to China’s first emissions cap pledge, and laid the foundations for the Paris agreement the following year.

2. India will come under increasing pressure to sign up to the GMP

India was one of the highest-profile countries to decline signing up to the GMP at the previous two COPs. And it doesn’t look like signing up this time around either.

India cited the impact to its agricultural economy as one of the reasons not to sign up to the GMP at COP27 last year. Officials have recently pointed to various domestic methane reduction measures as further reason to stay outside the international pact. However, external pressure is sure to mount after China’s recent methane-action announcement, especially if more concrete international action comes from it.

Moreover, countries such as Brazil, with similarly important agricultural sectors in terms of their impact on the economy and methane emissions, is a GMP signatory, and included methane emissions in its recently-updated NDC. India’s reluctance to sign up will be increasingly tested over the medium term.

Global Methane Pledge (GMP) coverage

The Global Methane Pledge (GMP), jointly launched by the United States and the European Union (EU) at COP26, covers around 45% of global emissions, but does not include the top three emitters (China, Russia and India).

So what? India is the second-largest global methane emitter and has a rapidly growing population and economy. Abating methane emissions early will not only be crucial for the country to hit Paris-aligned goals, but also for the wider global energy transition. External pressure to sign up to the GMP may soon become too much to resist.

3. Companies could be about to take the lead in new methane abatement commitments

COP28, presided over by the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, will be more receptive to the fossil-fuel industry’s attendance than previous COPs. Oil and gas companies will be 'in the room' and likely to participate actively.

The positive side to having higher energy industry participation could be that companies take the lead from nation states in methane reduction action. COP President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber has already hinted that more than 20 oil and gas firms have signalled intent to zero out methane emissions and eliminate routine flaring by the end of the decade, with an announcement likely during the upcoming summit.

So what? The energy sector contributes more than a third of all anthropogenic, or human-caused, methane emissions, with big cuts possible if investment is correctly applied. This could prompt governments to follow through with abatement legislation at the national level.

Conclusion: gathering momentum on methane

There is gathering momentum around the methane abatement movement which could culminate in definite, targeted and ratified action. It could also galvanise support for upcoming policies such as the US Inflation Reduction Act’s waste emissions charge and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) methane reduction plan.

To read more about the methane abatement challenge – and its solutions – read Mission invisible: tackling the oil and gas industry's methane problem

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