China has unveiled its long-awaited plan to reduce methane emissions ahead of the COP28 climate summit, showing its willingness to work closely with the international community to tackle the second-biggest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.
The Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Wednesday released the action plan to curb methane emissions after a four-day meeting between the US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in California from November 4-7 to address the climate crisis.
Although the plan did not mention firm targets or timetables for reducing methane emissions, it put emphasis on improving monitoring and supervision of methane emissions, as well as enhancing global cooperation. It also set several goals for the utilisation of the gas in different sectors.
The action plan provides a clear framework for local Chinese governments, enterprises and financial institutions to issue their own strategies for methane reduction, and will promote the innovation and research of methane-reduction technologies, according to Qin Hu, vice-president and chief representative of the China branch of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an international non-profit organisation.
“Methane utilisation is an important and cost-effective measure to reduce methane emissions,” Qin told the Post on Wednesday. “Recycling methane can also help increase the supply of clean energy, so promoting methane emission reduction and utilisation can not only address climate change but also improve energy security and corporate efficiency.”
Methane has been recently elevated to the top of the international agenda as the climate crisis worsens, given its higher global warming potential. It is 80 times more harmful than carbon dioxide for 20 years after it is released, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide and methane. It released 58.4 million tonnes of methane in 2021, followed by India, the US, and Russia, according to the International Energy Agency.
For the energy sector, the Chinese ministry’s action plan calls for the use of 6 billion cubic metres of methane released from coal mines annually by 2025, and to reach a “global leading level” in collecting the gas from oilfields by 2030.
In the agriculture sector, the target is to reach an 80 per cent utilisation rate of livestock and poultry manure, a key source of methane emissions, by 2025, and 85 per cent by 2030.
The plan also calls for better domestic waste management and landfill gas recycling to increase the use of methane released from urban waste.
Around 30 to 40 per cent of China’s methane emissions come from the energy sector, including oil and gas extraction, processing, and transport, as well as emissions from coal mines, according to EDF.
The agriculture sector accounts for another 30 per cent, mostly from animal husbandry and rice cultivation, and another 10 per cent comes from the waste management sector.
Last November at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, more than 150 countries signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, a breakthrough commitment to reducing global methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. China did not sign the initiative, but climate envoy Xie said at the time the country was drafting its own national methane strategy.
“Whether China decides to release the long overdue National Methane Action Plan is an indicator of the country’s political will at COP28,” said Li Shuo, a climate analyst and incoming director of the China Climate Hub at the Asia Society. COP28 will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from November 30 to December 12.
To develop such a plan before COP27 was a promise made in the US-China joint declaration at COP26 in 2021. “Since then, poor baseline data, interministerial disagreements, and perhaps most importantly, the deteriorating US-China climate relationship had delayed the plan until now,” said Li.