Cutting methane ‘quickest’ way to limit climate change, says G20

Gas linked with beef industry in focus as leaders declare climate ambitions ahead of Cop26

Reducing methane emissions is “one of the quickest, most feasible and most cost-effective ways to limit climate change”, the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies have declared as the landmark Cop26 climate conference begins.

Agriculture is the world's largest source of the polluting gas particularly associated with the beef sector, which is some 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide and responsible for about 30 per cent of global warming, according to the International Energy Agency.

"Methane is one of the most dangerous gases for our climate. We urgently need to reduce methane emissions to keep our climate targets in reach," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said following the G20 summit in Rome.

Ireland's large cattle herd is a leading factor in why it emits the second-most greenhouse gases per person in the European Union, second only to Luxembourg, according to the Central Statistics Office, with agriculture accounting for more than a third.


‘Public transparency’

In a joint statement, the leaders of the countries that together represent 80 per cent of global GDP committed to “significantly reduce our collective greenhouse gas emissions”.

“We acknowledge that methane emissions represent a significant contribution to climate change and recognise, according to national circumstances,” they said. “Its reduction can be one of the quickest, most feasible and most cost-effective ways to limit climate change and its impacts.”

The EU announced it would back a new methane observatory that would measure emissions and ensure “public transparency” on methane emissions, starting with the fossil fuel sector before expanding to agriculture.

The leaders met on the eve of the 26th United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, with the aim of injecting momentum into global efforts to avert catastrophic climate change in what Britain's Prince Charles described at the summit as the "last chance saloon".

Host prime minister, Italy's Mario Draghi, said the world could "no longer postpone" a transition to clean energy, warning that leaders' credibility was at stake: "We will be judged by what we do, not what we say."

In the joint declaration, the 20 leaders committed to plant a trillion trees and reaffirmed the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees and trying to hold it to 1.5 degrees, the point after which scientists say the worst effects of climate change will be locked in, threatening the habitability of Earth.

“We recognise that the impacts of climate change at 1.5 degrees are much lower than at 2 degrees,” the leaders said.

The joint declaration moved to limit financing for new coal-fuelled power plants, though the language fell short of some hopes.


A bid by the largest economies including the United States and the EU to extend a goal of climate neutrality by 2050 to the wider group met resistance, and was not included in the final draft.

"No one has proved to us that 2050 is something we must all subscribe to," said Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who attended the conference in person while President Vladimir Putin took part by video link. Russia's goal is 2060.

British prime minister Boris Johnson told journalists the G20 had "inched forward", but the Cop26 conference would need to go further in tackling climate change.

“We have made reasonable progress at the G20, all things considered, but it is not enough,” he said.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times