The Australian government has announced it has joined the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 from 2020 levels. Over 120 countries have now committed to the Pledge, which involves reducing emissions of this greenhouse gas (GHG) across sectors, including energy, agriculture and waste.

The Global Methane Pledge was formally launched at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 by the United States and European Union. It marked a crucial step in tackling climate change and getting the world closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement, said the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP). “Cutting methane emissions is the best way to slow climate change over the next 25 years”, said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. This is because methane is a potent GHG and a leading driver of the climate crisis

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said the Pledge promotes an aspirational target for nations to work collaboratively to reduce global methane emissions. “The Australian government will continue to partner with industry to decarbonise the economy and pursue emissions reduction initiatives across energy and waste sectors including capturing waste methane to generate electricity”, Mr Bowen said in a statement. “By joining the Pledge, Australia will join the rest of the world’s major agricultural commodity exporters including the United States, Brazil, and Indonesia in identifying opportunities to reduce emissions in this hard-to-abate sector.” 

The government will allocate up to AUD $3 billion from the AUD $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to support investment in various sectors. This includes low emissions technologies, agricultural methane reduction, capturing waste methane and capturing or avoiding fugitive methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure. 

Methane emissions drive the climate and health crisis

Methane is a GHG with 80 times the climate-heating impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) over 20 years. It is extremely effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere and has accounted for roughly 30 per cent of global heating since pre-industrial times, despite existing in vastly smaller concentrations than CO2.

Emissions are also increasing faster now than at any other time since records began in the 1980s. Methane is also the largest contributor to ground-level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant and GHG. Exposure to ground-level ozone causes one million premature deaths every year. 

In Australia, agriculture is the largest methane-emitting sector, particularly livestock. This is followed by fugitive emissions leaking from the fossil fuel industry and waste. However, while methane emissions pose severe dangers to our climate and health, emissions are often underreported, sometimes up to 40 per cent

Rapid fossil fuel phase-out is essential to meet methane pledge

Speaking ahead of the government’s formal announcement, Leader of the Australian Greens Adam Bandt MP welcomed the expected news. However, the real issue is not cows and agriculture, he said, but “the tax-dodging” coal and gas corporations. “I’m glad the government is listening to the Greens’ long-standing calls for Australia to join US President Biden’s global methane pledge, but putting it into practice means stopping new coal and gas mines”, said Mr Bandt. “Labor can’t sign the methane pledge today and then open up new coal and gas mines tomorrow.” 

Mr Bandt highlighted the alternating crises of summer floods and bushfires, which are becoming increasingly severe, underscoring the need to stop new fossil fuel developments. Scrapping massive new projects, like Betaloo and Scarborough, are essential to meet the Pledge and protect people from the escalating climate crisis, he said. Likewise, simply offsetting emissions of current fossil fuel projects are also inadequate. 

Taking action to reduce methane emissions while expanding or extending fossil fuel production will obstruct vital progress toward the global Pledge. Instead, a rapid phase-out of coal, oil and gas is crucial. Ditching new fossil fuel developments for renewables also brings many wider benefits, including job creation, lower energy bills, cleaner air and sustainable economic growth. If the government is serious about the global climate commitments it signs up to, there is no room for new fossil fuels in its plans.

Photo: Ken Doerr