What is methane and why should it be curbed?

Methane is the second-most prominent greenhouse gas

A flaring pit to burn methane from oil production. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

The Cop28 talks that start on Thursday are expected to be dominated by efforts to cut warming emissions.

It is C02 that is the primary culprit but methane, the second-most prominent greenhouse gas, is also expected to feature prominently.

Cutting methane by 45 per cent by 2030 could help meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C on pre-industrial levels and help the world avoid the worst effects of global warming, the UN has said.

So what is methane, where does it come from and how are countries trying to clamp down?

What is methane?

Methane is colourless, odourless and invisible to the naked eye and yet, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, is responsible for more than 25 per cent of global warming.

According to the UNEP, methane is 80 times more harmful than CO2 for 20 years after it is released.

UN chief calls for 'pivotal' Cop28 as global warming effects intensify

UN chief calls for 'pivotal' Cop28 as global warming effects intensify

Where does it come from?

Methane comes from the energy sector; agriculture – particularly from livestock such as cattle; and waste such as from the breakdown of organic matter in landfills.

Agriculture is estimated to be responsible for the most at about 40 per cent with fossil fuels for about 36 per cent.

Why is it important methane is tackled?

The 2015 Paris deal set a target to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030.

Every degrees counts to avoid the worst impact of global warming.

Limiting climate warming to 1.5ºC will require “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes” such as cutting emissions, UN scientists believe.

What are countries doing to tackle methane?

A joint EU-US "Global Methane Pledge" was launched in 2021, aiming to reduce global methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, compared to 2020 levels.

About 150 countries have signed on but few have given detailed plans on how they aim to achieve this.

The UAE has called for the oil and gas industry to phase out methane emissions by 2030.

More finance for countries to tackle methane is also important and this is expected to also crop up during Cop28.

It is hoped that further progress will be made at Cop28 on methane.

Updated: November 28, 2023, 4:13 AM