News from the NOS•
Climate and Energy editor
Climate and Energy editor
A global warning system to combat methane emissions was launched at the United Nations climate conference in Egypt. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and is a major concern. There were record methane emissions last year and the exact cause is still unknown. A lot of methane is known to be released in landfills, during coal mining and in the oil and gas industry.
From now on, companies in the latter category can at least receive a message from the United Nations if it has been seen from space where the strong greenhouse gas is coming from. The new system is called MARS, short for Methane Alert and Response System. We work with satellite measurements from NASA and European space agencies.
The United States, the European Union and other countries pledged last year to reduce total methane emissions by 30% by 2030. 120 countries have now joined this initiative. Methane is responsible for a quarter of global warming.
The reduction of methane emissions is considered essential for achieving the Paris climate goals. On the one hand, because methane is a greenhouse gas 30 to 80 times stronger than CO2 and, on the other, because it disappears from the atmosphere much faster. While CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, methane has disappeared after about ten years.
“So if we stop our methane emissions now, we will benefit from it within ten years,” says Ilse Aben of the Dutch Institute for Space Research SRON. “That’s why methane is such an interesting target to tackle, to fight climate change as much as possible in the short term.”
Emphasize that the goal is not to put companies to shame, but to ensure that governments and companies take action when a leak is identified. According to the people involved, the fact that a UN platform is working on this will hopefully lead to it being seen as neutral and trustworthy. But companies or governments cannot be forced to plug the holes.
“I think they can refuse, but if the warning system continues to see the same leak day after day, someone will eventually take action,” said Niklas Hagelberg of UNEP, the United Nations environmental agency. According to him, it is usually quite easy to close such a flaw and it is also in the interest of the company itself. Shareholders will want it too, he thinks. Because if methane doesn’t rise in the air, the company can sell it.
In addition to this new system for the oil and gas industry, this week’s climate summit also drew attention to landfill emissions in cities such as Buenos Aires, Casablanca or Madrid. When organic material is stacked on top of each other with other waste and no oxygen is added, methane is formed. This can also be seen from space. The next step is for major cities around the world to be notified in the hope that they will do something about it.
Aben expects the city authorities to want to start. Because landfills also cause odors and can be harmful to people’s health.
“We’ve been showing for a few years what can be detected with those satellites. But that remains somewhat scientific,” says Aben. “Now we have to do something with this information. I think it is vital that this happens under the banner of the United Nations.”