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Cutting our methane emissions could position the United Kingdom as an environmental leader

COP27 (Credit: SOPA Images Limited / Alamy)

4 min read

The United Kingdom will imminently hand over the reins of the COP presidency to Egypt, but the events of recent weeks have hardly reassured the international community of the government’s commitment to leadership on fighting climate change and biodiversity loss.

First came the announcement that COP President Alok Sharma would no longer be attending Cabinet, followed by an excruciating period in which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak flipflopped about attending COP27 himself. Jacob Rees-Mogg may be out of the Cabinet, but the government’s climate apathy appears to be here to stay.

The slogan “Keep 1.5 Alive” was regularly heard during COP26 and the weeks following it. However, a recent report from the United Nations shows that there is, in fact, “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” given the gap between the cuts in emissions pledged and those needed to limit global temperature rise. Whilst carbon dioxide is often the most referenced in these discussions (largely because it is the most common greenhouse gas contributing to climate change), other greenhouse gases have an even more potent impact on heating the planet. In particular, methane emissions from across the economy continue to be overlooked by governments.

Last year in Glasgow, the United Kingdom signed the Global Methane Pledge promising to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, but they have yet to announce a plan to meet this commitment. Furthermore, a new report by the Changing Markets Foundation found that the European Union is falling behind on tackling methane emissions. While the United Kingdom has had a good track record since 1990, including under the last Labour government, we have failed to make any significant progress in the last few years. As a historic big polluter, it is critical that the United Kingdom plays its part in reducing methane.

The International Energy Agency say that 72 per cent of gas leaks could be eliminated with existing technologies, reducing methane in the United Kingdom by nine per cent

From transitioning to renewable energy and insulating people’s homes, to switching to electric vehicles and restoring nature, the solutions to reducing carbon dioxide emissions are largely known, it is just a question of political will to enact them. But what of the solutions to cut methane emissions? Fortunately, a new report by the environmental think tank Green Alliance outlines how the United Kingdom can not only meet its obligations on methane, but go even further.

Previous prime minister Boris Johnson’s catchy slogan for Britain’s priorities at COP26 was “cars, coal, cash, trees, keeping warming to 1.5 degrees.” But what about cows? Agriculture represents over 58 per cent of the total methane produced in the United Kingdom, with little progress having been made in the last few decades. Green Alliance is urging the government to do more to support farmers to reduce methane on their farms. Feeding dairy cows a methane reducing supplement and improving slurry management are recommended, along with encouraging people to take up healthier diets with more fruit and vegetables and alternative proteins. Together these actions would be enough to cut the United Kingdom’s methane emissions by 15 per cent by 2030, half that needed to meet our targets.

Households up and down the country are having to pay sky high energy bills while the oil and gas industry makes record breaking profits. All the while, the industry is lazily wasting gas through leaky pipes that could be going towards helping to heat people’s homes. The government should introduce regulation to ensure the gas industry is forced to plug these leaks. The International Energy Agency say that 72 per cent of these leaks could be eliminated with existing technologies, reducing methane in the United Kingdom by 9 per cent.

While the threats of climate change are real, the solutions provide hope for a happier and healthier society. Reducing methane emissions can support the development of thriving new businesses in alternative proteins and effective animal feed additives. Shifting towards healthier diets would reduce our meat consumption and lessen the pressure on our National Health Service. There are also opportunities for environmental benefits, as improving manure management on farms will lead to cleaner air and less river pollution through reduced artificial fertiliser use.

Fortunately, the government seems to be turning away from fracking. According to United States satellite data, fracking leaks five percent of its methane in fugitive emissions, making it worse than coal for global warming!

The report from Green Alliance also explores how we in the United Kingdom could support and influence other countries to reduce their methane emissions. Meeting the goals of the Global Methane Pledge requires extensive global action, but all progress needs inspiring leadership. Can the United Kingdom step up and show the way?

Geraint Davies, Labour Co-op MP for Swansea West

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