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UN-EU launch watchdog to track government methane pledges

Smoke rises from the Feyzin Total refinery chimneys, outside Lyon, central France. (Keystone/AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, file)

The United Nations and the European Union on Sunday launched a global watchdog to monitor governments’ progress on cutting emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas responsible for at least a quarter of the current climate warming. 

The International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), revealed on the eve of the latest UN climate talks in Glasgow, will track pledges made by over two dozen countries last month to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. 

Methane is the second-biggest driver of global warming after carbon dioxide emissions. It is much more potent in the short term in its ability to warm the planet but breaks down in the atmosphere faster, meaning immediate reductions can quickly have an impact on limiting climate change.

“Methane has accounted for roughly 30 per cent of global warming since pre-industrial times,” EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson said in a statement.

“Existing systems do not allow us to determine precisely enough where emissions happen across the global and in what volumes. Once better data is available, countries can take swift and well-targeted action.”

The new watchdog aims to will improve the means of reporting more accurately on methane emissions, starting with the fossil fuel sector, the biggest emitter of the odourless gas, before expanding to other sectors like agriculture and waste. 

Hosted by UN Environment Programme (UNEP), IMEO is expected to cost around €100 million over five years. It will receive no industry funding but will engage with companies to use their data. Funding will come entirely from governments and philanthropies.

The launch of the new observatory comes as delegates from more the 200 countries arrived in Scotland for the COP26 climate summit, where governments are meant to step up their commitments for keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees below pre-industrial levels.

Cutting methane levels in the atmosphere, especially in the fossil fuel industry which is responsible for one-third emissions, is essential to those plans, UNEP’s executive director Inger Andersen said.

“But this is not a get-out-of-jail free card: methane reductions must go hand in hand with actions to decarbonise the energy system to limit warming to 1.5°C, as called for in the Paris Agreement,” she added.