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Methane Emission Cooperation Takes Center Stage: U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry Visits China

Kerry's visit presents a crucial opportunity for both nations to take decisive action on methane emissions, setting an example for the rest of the world in the fight against climate change.

Shivam Dwivedi
Methane Emission Cooperation Takes Center Stage: U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry Visits China (Representative Photo Source: John Kerry Twitter)
Methane Emission Cooperation Takes Center Stage: U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry Visits China (Representative Photo Source: John Kerry Twitter)

In an effort to revive climate cooperation between the world's two largest carbon polluters, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry visited China recently to address the critical issue of methane emissions. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for approximately 30% of global warming, has become a focal point in the discussions between China and the United States.

Kerry emphasized the significance of cooperation on this front, revealing that during previous climate talks, China had agreed to develop a methane action plan, which remains undisclosed to the public. Experts believe that collaboration between the two nations on methane emissions could pave the way for a more constructive dialogue on climate action.

The Global Methane Partnership, a U.S.-EU initiative targeting a 30% reduction in methane emissions by the end of the decade, welcomed China's participation during the COP27 climate talks in Egypt last year. Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate envoy, revealed the country's intention to implement concrete measures to curb methane emissions from various sectors, including energy, agriculture, and waste.

In light of these developments, sources indicate that the United States is eager for China to reveal its methane action plan ahead of the upcoming U.N. climate conference, COP28, scheduled for December in Dubai. Jonathan Banks, the global director for methane prevention at the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), views this as a promising step towards more serious discussions about methane in China.

Although China has committed to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2060, it has yet to establish specific targets for methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases. The country is still working on accurate measurement methodologies for these emissions.

Conversely, the U.S. under President Joe Biden aims to decarbonize its economy by 2050. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 imposes fees on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry starting in 2024, and the Biden administration has proposed a rule targeting pollution reduction, including a "super emitter" program to address large methane leaks. China, however, acknowledges that its ability to control methane remains weak as it continues to prioritize monitoring efforts. A report from the Beijing-based Innovative Green Development Program indicated that rising methane levels in China could lead to a 50% increase in non-CO2 climate emissions by mid-century, which poses a significant challenge to achieving carbon neutrality.

The reduction of methane emissions from the industrial and agriculture sectors could potentially reach 30-40% of 2015 levels by the end of the decade, as suggested by scientists at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The success of this endeavor lies in China's commitment to improving the quality of data from these sectors.

Among the key sources of methane emissions growth in China are livestock and rice production, which currently remain absent from the country's climate plans. To address this, the agriculture ministry recommended implementing new farming practices, such as improved paddy irrigation management and low-protein diets for livestock.

Another emerging concern is methane emissions from landfills. However, the most significant challenge lies in the country's massive coal sector, which constitutes the world's largest source of methane emissions from coal mines. While China has been capturing some of this methane gas for energy use for over a decade, experts assert that more substantial efforts are needed to have a meaningful impact on global emissions. The province of Shanxi, the only region with a developed coalbed methane industry, has pledged to increase coalbed methane usage rates to 50% by 2025. However, numerous mines in remote areas lack the necessary infrastructure for methane collection.

Experts hope that China's methane action plan will address coal mine emissions, considering the nation's massive contribution to this issue. According to Antoine Halff, co-founder of the environmental research group Karryos, China's coal mine methane emissions significantly surpass those of any other country.

One potential area for immediate China-U.S. cooperation lies in improving methane measurement accuracy. Chinese firms are already collaborating with the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force to enhance emission accounting.

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