China will look into methane emissions in key industries, including coal mining, agriculture and petroleum, and publish a nationwide methane emission control action plan, the environment ministry said on Thursday.
There was also positive news – a fall of carbon emissions in the third quarter – partly as a result of a clampdown on property development and widespread coal shortages. But the methane emissions pledge is something climate change activists have been anxious to hear.
Earlier this month, China and the United States – the world’s two biggest greenhouse gases emitters – unveiled a deal to ramp up cooperation tackling climate change, including by cutting methane emissions.
“The formulation of a methane action plan is … an important work of China’s active response to climate change strategy, and an important measure to implement the Sino-US joint declaration,” Lu Xinming, a vice director of the climate change department at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), told a news briefing.
Methane is emitted during energy production, raising livestock and the decay of organic waste in landfills. It is more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but 80 times more potent in warming the earth.
China’s methane emissions were 55.29 million tonnes in 2014, accounting for 10.4% of total greenhouse gases emission in the country, latest official data has revealed. The energy sector contributed 45% of the methane discharge while agriculture accounted for 40%.
“We will roll out thorough research on China’s methane emission control situation, and set effective emission reduction measures targeting coal mining, agriculture, solid waste and sewage water treatment, as well as petroleum and natural gas sectors,” Lu said.
Lu also said the MEE will set standards for the reduction and utilisation of methane emissions at coal and petroleum industries, and will encourage companies to cut methane emissions via market trades.
China has a carbon emissions trading platform, but not one for methane.
The MEE did not disclose the timeframe and detailed targets of the nationwide methane reduction action plan. But an MEE official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to media, said the plan was scheduled to be published in 2022.
Some Chinese oil and gas firms, such as China National Petroleum Corp and Sinopec, have set their own targets on cutting methane emissions.
CO2 Emissions Down in Q3
The carbon emissions fall in the third quarter was the first since its economic recovery from the coronavirus began, new research shows.
China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, saw CO2 emissions drop by around 0.5% in July-September from a year earlier, Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst with the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), said.
“The drop in emissions could mark a turning point and an early peak in China’s total emissions, years ahead of its target to peak before 2030,” Myllyvirta said in a report published on Carbon Brief on Thursday.
The fall marks a turnaround from an approximately 9% increase in emissions in the first half of 2021, when China’s post-Covid economic recovery was in full swing with construction and heavy industrial activity.
The last time China’s quarterly emissions fell year-on-year was in January-March 2020, when Covid-19 first hit.
Although researchers had pointed out that China’s major industries could reach carbon peaks by around 2024 and called for a cap on total emissions by 2025, its top climate negotiators did not make any more ambitious pledges in the UN talks in Glasgow that ended earlier this month.
Tight coal supply and record-high prices caused power outages in many Chinese regions late in the third quarter, hitting industrial operations and disrupting residential usage.
Meanwhile, production of two major building materials, crude steel and cement, slowed by 16% and 11%, respectively, from the previous three months, according to a Reuters calculation based on China’s statistics bureau data.
China has tightened property curbs amid concerns over the potential collapse of highly indebted firms such as China Evergrande Group and a possible spillover of credit risk into the broader economy.
“If the Chinese government injects further construction stimulus to boost its economy, emissions could rebound once again, before peaking later this decade,” Myllyvirta said.
• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard