Cutting methane pollution is a serious climate solution we can roll out now, that will reduce global warming and save lives and livelihoods at low cost.
This next decade is crucial for climate action. We must slash our climate pollution fast to protect people and our living world. Sometimes the speed and scale of action required to secure a safe future can feel overwhelming, but slashing methane pollution is a no-brainer that will have an enormous positive impact.
Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, accelerating destructive climate change and extreme weather disasters. While short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, it’s far more potent in immediately fuelling global warming. Methane stays in the atmosphere for about a decade and causes up to 86 times more climate damage than carbon dioxide when averaged over a 20 year period.
Because we have a short window of time to prevent runaway climate damage and to limit the impact of more frequent and extreme weather events like bushfires, floods and heatwaves, reducing methane – such a powerful polluter in the short term – is vitally important.
Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution. After agriculture, the energy sector – including oil, gas and coal – generates nearly 40% of the methane emissions created by human activity.
A report published by the UN and Climate and Clean Air Coalition found cutting methane pollution was the strongest action we can take to slow global heating in the short term. This solution could keep our goal of limiting a temperature rise to 1.5°C within reach.
The report found:
The coal and gas industry releases methane at almost every stage of production and combustion. Even coal mines that have been abandoned, can still be significant sources of methane. Coal seams naturally contain methane, which seeps out once they are exposed, and without proper rehabilitation closed mines continue to pollute.
When it comes to gas, methane is released during extraction, production, use and even transport where it leaks from pipes and infrastructure. Across the gas supply chain, methane is vented, flared and leaked – all resulting in more methane in our atmosphere. However, there are ways to reduce methane emissions, and simply stopping leaks makes a big difference.
Technology that measures methane leaks raises serious concerns about the accuracy of Australia’s methane measurements and the willingness of fossil fuel companies to stop leaks.
Gas and coal companies are making huge profits while fuelling climate disasters. They want a licence to keep polluting, but won't take simple measures they should to plug their methane leaks. They must act now to reduce the methane pollution they're releasing every day while Australia builds its renewable future, powered by our abundant natural resources of wind and solar.
In recent years, methane emissions have actually been rising. The International Energy Agency’s Global Methane Tracker estimates that in 2022 the global energy sector generated almost 135 million tonnes of methane emissions, a slight rise on the previous year.
But we can bring these emissions down, and the greatest opportunity for cuts is in the fossil fuel industry.
The report found that by using readily available measures emissions from the oil and gas sector could be cut by 29–57 Mt/yr and from the coal sector by 12–25 Mt/yr. That’s equivalent to 355,158,325 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year, or more than three times Australia’s annual C02 emissions.
The Global Methane Pledge was launched in 2021 to accelerate action to reduce methane emissions. The Pledge has been signed by 150 countries who together are responsible for 45% of global human-caused methane emissions, including the United States and the European Union. The pledge commits partners to collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.
Australia has signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, and now needs to act on that commitment. Many countries that have signed the pledge already have national plans to reduce emissions completed or in development, but Australia isn’t one of them.
The Australian government needs to make a national plan with a clear and measurable roadmap to reduce our methane emissions. We also need serious improvements to the transparency and accuracy of Australia’s methane reporting.
The scale of the climate crisis can seem overwhelming. What Australia chooses to do now matters. Every particle of climate pollution – be it methane or carbon dioxide – that we keep out of the atmosphere makes a difference. The more pollution we prevent today, the safer our tomorrow is. Cutting methane pollution now will save lives and help us on the path to a cleaner future powered by the wind and the sun.