New IPCC Report Bolsters Evidence that Methane Reductions are Key to Preventing Climate Catastrophe

The IPCC amplifies the conclusions of CCAC-UNEP Global Methane Assessment, showing the urgent need to reduce methane in parallel with decarbonization.

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To put the world on a path consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5˚C target, methane emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 relative to projected levels. This can be achieved using solutions available today in the fossil fuel, agriculture and waste sectors.

The message from the latest IPCC Report is clearer than ever: without dramatic and immediate action the world is hurtling towards disaster. The Head of the Secretariat of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), Martina Otto, and the current Chair of the CCAC Scientific Advisory Panel and Special Advisor for Action on Methane, Drew Shindell, share their perspectives on the latest findings, the work ahead, and how the CCAC is leading the way in aggressive methane reductions in the coming years.
   

What are the most important takeaways from this latest dispatch from the IPCC?

Martina Otto: This one has a really forceful message about the bad and the good: the bad is the cost of inaction and just how much we are headed for climate disaster. At the same time, it also shows that we do have the technology and the knowledge to achieve the necessary reductions — so we have no excuse, we cannot push things any further. Goals set for 2030 and 2050 mean action today, and at scale. A lot of commitments have been made and now we need to turn them into real action. 

Drew Shindell: A lot of the news in the IPCC's 2018 special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C was that we had 12 years to radically change course and what this assessment shows is that we’ve already spent four of those years without taking radical action. 

We already knew we had a very narrow window and we’ve used a third of it up just since the last report. Now we have to double down, triple down, and quadruple down on the pace of change if we’re going to get to those 2030 targets. We really have our work cut out for us.

What does the report tell us about the role of methane in preventing disastrous levels of warming?

Drew Shindell: The report amplifies previous conclusions about methane reductions, which is that to get to a 1.5-degree pathway, we’ve got to get about a third of the methane emissions eliminated from our current levels by 2030, and about 45 percent by 2040. 

Given that methane is still going up rapidly, that’s a huge change. We have to have methane reductions in all sectors —  fossil fuel, agriculture, and waste — and we have to have methane reductions from all regions. It can’ be just developed countries, it can’t just be developing countries, it’s got to be everywhere because the reductions we need are so large.

We can’t get to our climate targets at all without getting to net-zero CO2 but the report really highlights how control of methane is probably the strongest lever we have to avoid overshooting our goals while we work our way down towards net zero CO2. The first half of this century, the next 25 years or so, the temperature trajectory is going to be strongly governed by what we do for methane. And in the latter half of the century, it’s going to be dominated by what we do for CO2. 

The good thing about the report is that it bolsters the findings of the Global Methane Assessment and the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C which both found that many methane reduction strategies can be done at a very low cost, making cutting methane a really appealing thing to do.

Martina Otto: Indeed, the IPCC Report confirms quite a few of our findings from the CCAC’s Global Methane Assessment. There’s been a lot of emphasis on CO2 — and for good reason — but this report also puts a spotlight on methane. Given the shorter lifetime of methane and its high warming potential, as well as the many low cost or even negative cost measures available to reduce methane, methane action is amongst the best bets to reduce atmospheric concentrations this decade and help avoid dangerous tipping points. 

It is not an either or, but we must do both in parallel, aggressively and now. As we transition to clean energy with investments in renewables and energy efficiency, we must reduce current methane emissions from flaring and leaks. While we reduce food loss and waste, we avoid methane emissions to the atmosphere by turning organic waste into compost or capturing landfill gas for energy. On top, some of our methane reduction measures can also yield CO2 reductions.  

How is the Global Methane Pledge paving the way for the reductions needed to prevent catastrophic warming?

Martina Otto: The pledge, which was launched by the US and the EU, puts out a global, collective target. Countries joining commit to take voluntary actions towards this collective effort to cut global methane reductions by at least 30 percent by 2030 from 2020 levels. Implemented, this global reduction target could eliminate over 0.2 degrees warming by 2050. It is amazing to see how quickly so many countries joined the global commitment: We now have 111 signatories,  and this effort has really put the issue of methane reductions on the political agenda. 

All of these countries have now put methane reductions firmly on their political horizons, and the CCAC is working with many of them on policy and planning, to prioritise the most important reduction measures and sectors for their individual context. It is a fantastic starting point from which to build. The pledge was informed by the CCAC-UNEP Global Methane Assessment, a scientific report that looks at the multiple benefits of methane reductions and the most effective ways to cut emissions. 

Drew Shindell: It’s a valuable and encouraging thing that the methane reductions that the IPCC concluded are needed by 2030, which have a range of 20 to 60 percent, are consistent with the Global Methane Pledge’s aims of at least a 30 percent reduction. That’s one of the things that’s really encouraging: while these scientists were looking through the literature and figuring out what was needed, we actually had the Global Methane Pledge appear, which lines up pretty darn nicely with what the IPCC found was needed.

While we haven’t actually brought the methane down yet, we at least have more than half the world’s countries on target to do what needs to be done for methane, which is a big change from where we were just a year ago at this time. 

Why is it so important that short-lived climate pollutant emissions are reduced alongside decarbonisation?

Martina Otto: Short-lived climate pollutants - that includes Black Carbon, Methane, Tropospheric Ozone and Hydrofluorocarbons - have in common that they stay in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than CO2, which means that if we take action now we’ll see the results quickly. Further, the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants generates multiple benefits. For example, SLCP action comes with health, avoided crop loss and related economic benefits as we work at the Nexus of Climate and Air Pollution. For example, the Global Methane Pledge alone will prevent more than 200,000 premature deaths due to air pollution each year by 2030. 

Drew Shindell: Methane reductions are among the most cost-effective actions we can take to mitigate climate change, and that’s not even counting all of the clean air benefits you get. We’ve been able to show, with the Global Methane Assessment and in the Coalition’s work generally, that these benefits of reducing air pollution are much more rapid than climate benefits. They also have enormous value because of the very high costs associated with the negative human health impacts of air pollution. Those come from reduced labour productivity, hospital expenses, and even people dying prematurely. 

The next decade is critical for climate action. What role will the CCAC play in attaining these reductions?

Martina Otto: We just celebrated our 10th anniversary. We started with six countries and UNEP as founding members, and have now grown into a partnership with over 70 countries and over 70 non-state partners, supported by a small Secretariat hosted by UNEP. Together, we have demonstrated the power of partnership as part of multilateralism. What started as a Coalition of the Willing turned quickly into the Coalition of the Working, with actions sponsored through a dedicated Trust Fund. We now must increase the pace and scale of action to become the Coalition of Impact at Scale. 

We will support countries on policies and planning and give them tools they need to get the job done. Through our sector Hubs which cover key sectors for SLCP mitigation, including the three high-impact sectors for methane reduction, we facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges which are a powerful way for countries to learn from each other’s challenges and successes. They gather experts and institutions from across the globe, which spur match-making between these partners to catalyse funds beyond the CCAC Trust Fund. 

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