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New report calls for government action on methane reduction

A new report has outlined the steps governments can take to cut emissions from three sectors – agriculture (producing 40 per cent of emissions), energy (producing 35 per cent) and waste (producing 20 per cent) – and better deliver on the Global Methane Pledge.

Food wasteThe Global Methane Pledge is a promise to reduce worldwide emissions of methane by 30 per cent by 2030, relative to 2020 levels. More than 110 countries have signed the pledge since its announcement back in September 2021.

The report, entitled ‘Methane Matters’, says that, in its current state, the Global Methane Pledge falls short of the 45 per cent reduction that the UN estimates is needed to limit global heating to 1.5C. It also highlights the fact that signatories are yet to set out comprehensive plans to cut emissions across the three sectors where methane can be reduced.

Compiled by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Changing Markets Foundation, and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the report provides a structured plan against which national action on the Pledge could be measured.

The report comes ahead of the impending Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate solutions report, due April 4, which is set to highlight the importance of cutting methane and other non-CO2 emissions.

Waste

Looking at the waste sector, the ‘Methane Matters’ report found that half of countries with national climate plans have failed to include measures to cut emissions from organic waste.

It was found that the biggest source of methane in the sector is emissions from solid waste, which could be cut by as much as 95 per cent by 2030 through low cost, scalable and easy to implement measures. ‘Methane Matters’ suggests that these measures would focus on waste prevention, waste recovery and the separation and treatment of organic waste.

The report asserts that the most important methane reduction strategy in the waste sector is waste prevention – ‘every tonne of organic material that never enters the waste stream avoids the methane that it would have generated in a landfill’ – further noting the impact of food waste, which accounts for ‘10 per cent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide’.

The report goes on to state that at every step of the supply chain for organic goods, waste prevention is possible. Solutions range from ‘amending subsidies that encourage food overproduction’ to ‘instituting demand-planning programmes or food donation mandates in supermarkets’.

When waste prevention fails, the report suggests that recovery is the next best option, stating that ‘discarded food can be redirected to people in need or repurposed for preserved products like jams’. However, it demonstrates that even with effective waste prevention programmes in place, some organic waste will still be produced. In this scenario, source separation, ‘where organic discards are separated out from other waste at their point of generation’, is vital.

‘Methane Matters’ also reveals that unlike landfills, ‘composting can prevent as much as 99 per cent of methane emissions that would otherwise be released from landfills’, stressing that composting alone could reduce solid waste methane emissions by 78 per cent by 2030. South Korea is noted as an example – where 95 per cent of all food discards are composted, used in animal feed or biofuel production. This is the result of initiatives such as a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ law.

‘Methane Matters’ explains that methane is produced in the waste sector when biodegradable material (food, human waste, garden clippings etc) break down in dumpsites, landfills, or sewage treatment environments. The report recommends interventions against the current ‘state of play’ in this sector, offering the ‘waste hierarchy’ as a useful tool to prioritising various strategies. It states that all of these strategies, from organic waste reduction to source separation and the treatment of organic discards are ‘low cost, scalable and easy to implement anywhere in the world’.

Agriculture

Within the agriculture sector, responsible for 32 per cent of global emissions, few countries have targets or policies to tackle methane emissions from livestock production. ‘Methane Matters’ found that governments largely focus on technical fixes, such as animal feed additives that could reduce emissions by 30 million tons a year by 2030, but ignore policies that encourage healthier diets with less, or better quality, meat and dairy.

The report highlights that this encouragement could cut emissions by 80 million tons a year over the next few decades. It could also deliver over half the cuts needed to avoid 0.3C of global heating by the 2040s.

Energy

The ‘Methane Matters’ report also determined that, within the energy sector, overall progress to reduce methane emissions is ‘slow, unambitious and requiring fundamental shifts in thinking’.

The report discovered that methane mitigation and a deployment of clean and efficient technologies could reduce emissions by around 75 per cent between 2020 and 2030. As well as this, more than 80 per cent of mitigation measures could be implemented at a negative or low cost using existing technologies and practices, and by applying regulation to both the production and import of energy.

Imports were highlighted as an issue, with the report finding that oil and gas imported to the EU in 2020 was responsible for ten times more methane than the energy produced within the EU.

‘The easiest and most affordable’ strategies

Mariel Vilella, Director of Global Climate Program, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) said: “On a rapidly warming planet, we don't have time to keep burning and burying our waste. By tackling the waste sector, governments will get fast results using some of the easiest and most affordable methane reduction strategies available.

“Zero waste strategies not only draw down methane, but can build climate resilience, create more and better jobs, reduce waste management costs, and support a thriving circular economy. While business as usual – incineration and energy production from waste – is a recipe for disaster, cities around the world are already reaping the benefits of organic waste prevention and composting.”

Marcello Mena, CEO of the The Global Methane Hub, a $330 million philanthropic initiative to reduce global methane emissions added: "This new report reminds us that we must deliver, and go beyond, the Global Methane Pledge to ensure that we keep warming under 1.5 degrees in the short-term.

“The sector-by-sector analysis of what must be done provides a clear roadmap that we must implement urgently. It is also a call for deeper, more transformational change. The Global Methane Hub will support countries and partners that want to lead the way on methane mitigation."