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Australia commits to signing Global Methane Pledge

Australia committed today to sign on to the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 based on 2020 levels. Australia will join 122 other countries in signing the pledge. Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen released a statement this afternoon of this commitment and putting in place measures to support the farming sector to reduce methane. No mention of addressing under-reporting of methane emissions and addressing mining fugitive emissions was more nebulous.

Signing the pledge was supported by many environmental groups and the National Farmers Federation.

As part of this a number of funded actions were stated:

  • Australian Government investment will include up to $3 billion from the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to support investment in, for example, low emissions technologies and component manufacturing and agricultural methane reduction.
  • Under the Powering Australia plan, the Government has also committed $8 million for the seaweed industry to support commercialisation of the low-emissions livestock feed supplement Asparagopsis.
  • The second stage of the Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) Program will provide $5 million in funding to develop technologies to deliver low emission feed supplements to grazing animals and determine their technical viability and commercial potential.

Reducing emissions in waste and mining weren’t detailed or costed, but the statement said “Further initiatives across waste and energy sectors will include capturing waste methane to generating electricity, capturing or avoiding fugitives from coal mines and gas infrastructure.”

There is a need for the Australian Government to address mining fugitive methane emissions reporting methodology as this is underestimating current emissions at least by half as indicated by satellite remote sensing. The IEA says Australia’s methane emissions at least double of that being reported (BBC) in the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER).

The Ember Report – Tackling Australia’s Coal Mine Methane Problem (PDF)  – published 8 June 2022, highlights the problem with Australia’s fossil fuel extration methane fugitive emissions.

It highlights some basic facts:

  1. Australia’s Coal Mine Methane (CMM) causes more global heating than all of Australia’s cars
  2. Coal Mine Methane emissions twice as high as official estimates
  3. The worst performing coal emits over 10 times more than the least emitting.
  4. Emissions likely to rise not fall

“The measurement and mitigation of coal mine methane in Australia are severely lacking in
both rigour and attention from policy-makers. Official estimates of Australia’s coal mine
methane emissions already indicate a massive problem for Australian and global efforts to
combat climate change, but – alarmingly – there is mounting evidence that these estimates
are inaccurate and that the problem could be even larger than reported figures show.”

The report highlights that the most effective way to address coal mine methane emissions is to reduce the use of coal, particularly in electricity generation. Reducing coal use, and legislating the end of new coal is crucial to this.

“A clear pathway to avoiding emissions is for Queensland and NSW to cease approving new coal mines and coal expansion projects. In particular, the 29 thermal/partially thermal coal mines in Queensland, and 21 in New South Wales should not be approved.”

Responses to the statement:

Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed the news.

“Farmers are already working to reduce methane from their livestock and agriculture, but we have not seen the same initiative from the coal and gas sector, which is a big contributor to Australia’s methane problem.

“Huge volumes of methane leak and are released into the atmosphere from operating and disused coal mines and gas projects.

“Methane that leaks from Australia’s coal mines is a particularly bad problem, outstripping even gas in the size of its climate damaging footprint and raising concerns about the accuracy of Australia’s methane measurement and reporting.

“Cutting methane emissions is low hanging fruit when it comes to rapidly reducing some of our most potent climate heating emissions.

“Joining the pledge means contributing to the global goal of reducing methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 while also improving the transparency and accuracy of methane reporting.

“With relatively cheap solutions available to quickly reduce methane from coal mines and gas operations, there’s no time to waste in taking responsible action on methane in Australia.

“It’s good to see the government helping farmers and livestock producers cut methane from their businesses, because solutions in their industries are more costly and complex.”

Lock the Gate drew attention to methane emissions from coal and gas mining

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Carmel Flint said growing evidence from satellite monitoring and related studies showed that not only were Australia’s methane emissions from coal and gas mining through the roof, they were also severely underreported.

“It’s really positive to see the Albanese Government has signed up to the Global Methane Pledge. It’s important now that they take real action to crack down on methane emissions from coal and gas mining. The technology to achieve these cuts already exists – but fossil fuel industries won’t implement it out of goodwill. That’s why we need the Albanese Government to stand up and regulate polluters to enforce a change in behaviour, as well as finding the courage to stop approving damaging new coal and gas mines” she said.

Lock the Gate also drew attention to a measure to assist reduction in ruminant emissions. David Vonhoff is a Darling Downs dairy farmer whose property would be impacted if the New Acland coal mine expansion goes ahead. Mr Vonhoff recently took part in a University of Southern Queensland trial, which added “Biochar” to cattle grain pellets and resulted in a 40% reduction in methane produced by the animals.

“There has been a lot of stupid commentary from some politicians of a certain persuasion around cattle and the methane pledge. I think it’s just a front to divert the attention away from the massive amounts of methane the coal and gas industries produce. As I’ve seen on my own property, farmers are working hard to reduce the methane coming from their cattle, but I haven’t seen any similar effort from coal and gas companies where polluting just seems to be their business model” he said. 

National Farmers Federation were happy with assistance offered to agriculture to assist methane reduction:

“Farmers are already leading the charge on climate action in Australia and have earned a seat at the table and the strong assurances and partnership provided by government mean the pledge will not negatively impact on farmers or the agriculture sector.

“We understand some in our industry are concerned what impact this will have on farming businesses. We take these concerns seriously and have raised them with the Federal Government, receiving assurances farmers will not be adversely impacted by Australia signing the pledge.

“Australian agriculture cannot and will not tolerate interventions like the New Zealand or Netherlands governments are implementing which target and undermine agriculture’s productivity.

“We welcome Government’s commitments which recognise the role farmers play in sustainably producing food and fibre and managing the landscape every day of the week as part of the ongoing emission reduction journey.

“Farmers have been given assurances there will be no new taxes or regulation on livestock methane, and no reduction to agricultural production nor livestock numbers. This commitment recognises agriculture’s existing achievement, future plans and dedication to ongoing partnership with government to develop technology-led solutions and associated innovation.

“We are confident Australian agriculture and farmers will retain a seat at the table as the conversation continues and this dialog with government is open and dynamic

“Australia’s farm sector has already reduced its emissions by about 59% on 2005 levels. And our red meat sector is planning to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“Agriculture has worked hard on progress in the climate conversation, ensuring our agenda is heard and our caveats are understood.”

Background:

Previous blog entries

Media Release – Australia joins Global Methane Pledge, THE HON CHRIS BOWEN MP, Minister for Climate Change and Energy 

 The Australian Government is prioritising long-term competitiveness and joining the over 120 countries committed to collectively reduce global methane emissions across energy and resources, agriculture and waste sectors.

The Global Methane Pledge is a voluntary commitment with 122 signatories including the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union working collectively to reduce global methane emissions across all sectors by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

Signatories to the non-binding pledge commit to taking a range of domestic actions such as standards for reducing emissions in the energy and waste sectors, and seeking abatement opportunities in the agricultural sector through technology and partnerships with farmers.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said the Pledge promotes an aspirational global target for countries to work together 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,” Minister Bowen said.

“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.”

Australian Government investment will include up to $3 billion from the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to support investment in, for example, low emissions technologies and component manufacturing and agricultural methane reduction.

Under the Powering Australia plan, the Government has also committed $8 million for the seaweed industry to support commercialisation of the low-emissions livestock feed supplement Asparagopsis.

The second stage of the Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) Program will provide $5 million in funding to develop technologies to deliver low emission feed supplements to grazing animals and determine their technical viability and commercial potential.

The Pledge does not require Australia to focus solely on agriculture, or reduce agricultural production or livestock numbers.

In particular, as a result of signing the Pledge, the Australian Government will not legislate or introduce taxes or levies to reduce livestock emissions.

National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simon said: “Signing the pledge signals Australia’s voluntary commitment to participation in global action on methane emissions. For agriculture it will reinforce our demonstrated commitment to sustainability and ongoing access key markets as an export orientated sector. Farmers are already leading the charge on climate action in Australia and have earned a seat at the table and the strong assurances and partnership provided by government mean the pledge will not negatively impact on farmers or the agriculture sector.”

Further initiatives across waste and energy sectors will include capturing waste methane to generating electricity, capturing or avoiding fugitives from coal mines and gas infrastructure.

Reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism will support emissions reductions in the industrial sector, including reductions of methane emissions from industrial and resource activities, helping to ensure Australian businesses can remain competitive as the world decarbonises.

The Global Methane Pledge is based on data from the United Nations Environment Programme Global Methane Assessment. That report highlights the critical role that cutting methane emissions plays in the slowing the rate of global warming.

Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that absorbs heat 84 times faster than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

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