China produces the world’s most methane. Will its reduction plan work?
China on Tuesday unveiled its long-awaited methane reduction plan, a major step in tackling greenhouse gas emissions for the world’s largest methane producer.
The move comes as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, wrap up strategic talks in California.
China pledged to boost monitoring, reporting, and data transparency in an effort to reduce methane emissions. But the plan notably makes no mention of specific targets.
“It remains to be seen how China’s action plan aligns with the global pledge,” Byford Tsang, an advisor at the E3G think tank, told Semafor, largely because China’s plan never once mentions the Global Methane Pledge, a U.S.-led initiative signed by 150 countries to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Still, the plan is “one of the few deliverables” China has produced since signing a joint declaration with the US at COP26 in Glasgow, Tsang noted, which in itself is a “crucial step forward” in addressing emissions. But, he adds, “it will take time to assess whether the plan could deliver significant effect in the absence of any quantified reduction targets.”
China’s decision not to sign the Global Methane Pledge was likely driven by its heavy reliance on coal mining, Tsinghua University’s Teng Fei told the China Dialogue. Coal mining produces about 90% to 95% of China’s methane emissions, which are more challenging and costlier to reduce than emissions in the U.S. and EU which are primarily produced by the oil and gas sector. “Given the differences in the make-up of methane emissions and ease of reduction, the targets proposed by the EU and the US are easier for them to achieve than for China,” Teng said, which, he noted, explains China’s reluctance to sign the pledge. Beijing needs to use a carrot-and-stick approach, Teng suggested, including binding emissions standards or subsidies, for companies to reduce their methane emissions. China’s new plan outlines supervision protocols for methane producers but does not detail what those protocols are.
The goal of the current U.S.-China climate talks is largely to “separate climate change from other issues on which the U.S. and China vehemently disagree,” writes Axios’ Andrew Freedman. Talks between Xie and Kerry in July produced no breakthrough, but China’s new methane reduction plan is “a goodwill gesture,” Greenpeace’s Li Shuo told Bloomberg. Still, China’s record of human rights abuses and cross-strait aggression has challenged bilateral climate initiatives in the last few years. Western countries have slowed down climate diplomacy with China because of growing authoritarianism, and China likewise no longer sees climate as a “standalone oasis” in tense relations with the U.S., experts told Politico’s E&E News last year. But even if bilateral agreements don’t happen, competition between the U.S. and China in ramping up green technology domestically and energy transition abroad could also “lead to more climate action,” one expert told E&E News.