China makes ‘opening play’ on methane policy ahead of UN climate summit

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China has made an “opening play” ahead of the UN climate summit by pledging to track and reduce harmful emissions from methane, as the world’s largest producer of the potent global warming gas.

With just three weeks to go before policymakers and world leaders meet in Dubai for COP28, China set out a plan to take more “forceful” action to tackle methane in a statement released on Tuesday.

However, it fell short by failing to specify definitive targets for emissions cuts and remained vague about timelines.

The statement from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment coincided with the tail-end of a four-day US visit by China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua for meetings with his counterpart John Kerry in California.

The document said China would focus on improving its monitoring and supervision systems for methane through to 2030, covering all sectors from energy to agriculture and waste.

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The move was “an opening play, rather than a final offer”, said one veteran climate policy diplomat, laying the groundwork for further discussions ahead of the Dubai summit.

But China remains outside the global methane pact signed by more than 150 countries two years ago at the Glasgow climate summit. Led by the US and Europe, it pledges to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared with 2020 levels. Russia and India also did not sign it.

Methane is responsible for an estimated one-third of the rise in global temperatures during the industrial era, and reducing it is seen as the easiest way to limit global warming in the near term.

The biggest contributor from human activity-related methane emissions is agriculture, closely followed by the energy sector, including from the production of coal, oil, natural gas and biofuels.

While it struggles to reduce emissions from agriculture, such as cattle and rice paddies, as well as waste, China produces the majority of its energy- related missions from coal, with the methane released during mining,

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It has also said it will strive to reduce flaring, or the burning of gas associated with oil and gas production, to zero by 2030.

The publication of its plan to improve its systems marked a “long overdue but a crucial step forward” in addressing one of China’s main greenhouse gases, said Byford Tsang, senior policy adviser at the independent climate policy think-tank E3G.

“It will take time to assess whether the plan could deliver significant effort in the absence of any quantified targets.”

The UAE host president-designate for the COP28, Sultan al-Jaber, said China’s announcement was a “crucial step for global climate action”.

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