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Managing methane to deliver on climate change and sustainable development agendas

Managing methane emissions from energy-related extractive activities is a win-win for delivering on the global promises on climate change and sustainable development. This was the key message delivered by UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach in his keynote address to the Global Methane Forum in Washington D.C. on 30 March.

“To achieve sustainable, efficient, and clean energy for all,” he said, “we must engage the entire stock of knowledge we can access globally.” With this in mind, he noted the current situation in the field of methane management, regretting that despite readily available technology methane emissions are at the moment not even properly monitored and reported, let alone comprehensively abated or used for economic benefit. Giving proper attention to methane issues could quickly lead to significant climate benefits. With the necessary know-how at hand, a considerable improvement in the present situation can be achieved with good will and a coordinated effort of all the key stakeholders of which UNECE is one.

Methane is a powerful greenhouses gas with a 100-year global warming potential 25 times that of CO2.  Measured over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. About 60% of global methane emissions are due to human activities. The main sources of anthropogenic methane emissions are the oil and gas industries, agriculture, landfills, wastewater treatment, and emissions from coal mines. Fossil fuel production, distribution and use are estimated to emit 110 million tonnes of methane annually.

Mr. Bach warned against shying away from tackling and discussing issues related to fossil fuels in the climate change debate. Over the coming decades fossil fuels will remain an integral part of the future energy system and hence they need to be included in any discussions on climate change and sustainable development. Consequently, he stressed the necessity of using carbon capture and storage and methane management to mitigate their negative impacts on the environment and the climate. This can help fossil fuel producers and users to become part of the solution rather than as only being seen as part of the problem.

Recalling the adoption last year of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris COP 21 Agreement, Mr. Bach stressed that world-wide engagement and effective cooperation is needed in order to live up to the promises of their far-reaching agendas. He also pointed to the fact that both of these accords rest on two pillars: sustainable energy and climate change mitigation.

Underlining the importance of cooperation, Mr. Bach reconfirmed the long-standing partnership between UNECE and the Global Methane Initiative (GMI) in the area of management of coal mine methane and welcomed a strengthening and broadening of the collaboration to encompass methane emissions from the oil and gas sectors in the form of a Strategic Alliance between UNECE and GMI. In his view such a step would not only facilitate and deepen cooperation among all stakeholders, but also enable both organizations to better identify areas suitable for common engagement, thus leading to more efficient use of resources and better outcomes. The Executive Secretary emphasized that since UNECE has recently launched an initiative to explore methane management methods and technologies along the whole value chain in all energy-related extractive industries, the timing for strengthening the relationship with GMI could not be better.

For further information, contact Scott Foster, Director, UNECE Sustainable Energy Division: scott.foster@unece.org