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Climate & Energy Editor
Climate & Energy Editor
At the United Nations climate conference in Egypt, a global alert system was launched to combat methane emissions. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is a major concern. Last year there were record emissions of methane, and the exact cause is still unknown. It is well known that a lot of methane is released in landfills, during coal mining and in the oil and gas industry.
From now on, companies in the latter category can at least receive a message from the United Nations if they are seen from the space where the powerful greenhouse gases come from. The new system is called MARS, short for Methane Alert and Response System. We work with satellite measurements from NASA and European space agencies.
The United States, the European Union, and other countries pledged last year to reduce total methane emissions by 30% by 2030. 120 countries have joined the initiative. Methane is responsible for a quarter of global warming.
Reducing methane emissions is seen as critical to achieving the Paris climate goals. On the one hand, because methane is a greenhouse gas 30 to 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and on the other hand, because it disappears from the atmosphere faster. Where carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, the methane disappeared after about ten years.
“If we stop our methane emissions now, we will benefit from that within ten years,” says Elsie Eben of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research SRON. “That’s why methane is an interesting target to tackle, to combat climate change as much as possible in the short term.”
He maintains that the goal is not to insult companies, but to ensure that governments and companies take action when a leak is identified. According to those involved, we hope that the fact that the UN platform is working on this will be seen as impartial and reliable. But companies or governments cannot be forced to plug leaks.
“I think they can refuse, but if the alarm system keeps seeing the same leak day in and day out, eventually someone will take action,” said Niclas Hagelberg of the UN Environment Programme, the UN environment agency. According to him, it is usually easy to close such a leak and it is in the interest of the company itself. And he thinks shareholders will want it, too. Because if the methane doesn’t rise in the air, the company can sell it.
In addition to this new system for the oil and gas industry, this week’s Climate Summit also drew attention to emissions from landfills in cities such as Buenos Aires, Casablanca or Madrid. When organic matter piles on top of each other with other waste and no oxygen is added, methane is formed. This can also be seen from space. The next step is to inform major cities around the world in hopes that they will do something about it.
Abyan expects the city authorities to want to start. Because landfills also cause odors and can be harmful to people’s health.
“We’ve shown now for a few years what you can detect with those satellites,” says Eben. “But that’s still a little bit on a scientific level.” “Now we have to do something with this information. I think it is very important for this to happen under the UN flag.”
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