Methane leak near COP26 site highlights emissions challenge

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A powerful greenhouse gas responsible for 40% of global warming over the past decade is released into the atmosphere from a site in Glasgow, not far from the start of the COP26 climate summit.

Methane from a gas pipeline near Ibrox football stadium, detected by researchers at Royal Holloway University in London, is leaking at a rate equivalent to 50 tonnes per year, equivalent to the emissions of 500 cows, the researchers estimated.

“It was surprisingly larger than the other leaks we’ve seen,” said Rebecca Fisher, the academic who found the invisible plume using car-mounted measuring instruments. “It really stood out.”

Methane will be the top priority at COP26, which begins on October 31 just one kilometer from the big leak, as delegates will be asked for the first time to pledge to reduce emissions.

The pledge, backed by the US and the EU, has already garnered support from 33 countries that have pledged to cut emissions by 30% over the next decade, although China’s major emitters, Russia and India have not yet committed.

Reducing methane emissions was “the fastest strategy we have” to limit global warming to the 1.5 ° C level, according to US climate envoy John Kerry, defined as the ideal target in the framework of the Paris agreement which aims to keep warming well below 2 ° C.

“Commitment on methane may be the most important way forward in Glasgow,” said Paul Bledsoe, climate adviser to former US President Bill Clinton, currently at the Progressive Policy Institute think tank.

Reducing methane would slow short-term temperature increases, he added, which was essential to avoid climatic “tipping points” in natural systems.

Methane is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of pound-for-pound warming potential over a 20-year period. But because it only stays in the atmosphere for about a decade – while CO2 can stay for a century or more – reducing methane emissions can have a faster effect on temperatures.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and fossil fuels account for about 35% of human-made emissions. Waste and landfills account for about a fifth and agriculture about 40 percent.

3D map showing UK methane emissions for 2019

Washington and Brussels are both preparing new methane regulations – which could arrive as early as next week in the United States. One measure under discussion in the EU is whether to regulate methane emissions associated with imported gas.

However, the leak near the COP26 site shows that methane emissions often come from commonplace sources. After traveling 350 km around Scotland’s largest city, Fisher saw emissions every four kilometers on average, four of which were classified as large or medium.

“It’s just gas that’s wasted,” she said. “Gas leaks are probably the easiest to repair compared to other anthropogenic sources of methane. “

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James Turitto, an activist with the Clean Air Task Force who, in six months, discovered more than 400 sources of methane emissions at oil and gas sites in the UK and Europe, said: “The UK has been at the forefront of discussions on climate change. . . But based on my observations, the UK needs to do more than just talk. “

Gas compressor stations, which regulate pressure in gas pipelines, are a common source of leaks. Turitto visited six compressor stations operated by National Grid and found leaks in five of them, including a very large leak at Chelmsford.

National Grid, the London-listed company that operates the site, said the emissions resulted from returning the facility to service following summer maintenance activities.

The company said it plans to reduce methane emissions as part of a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030. It is investing in better leak detection equipment on its entire network to help achieve this goal.

“We have an obligation to ensure the safety of gas transport in our network. Managing this safe transmission results in the release of methane emissions which we monitor and manage in accordance with industry standards, ”he said in a statement.

SGN, the distribution company that operates the Glasgow pipelines, said it was aware of the Ibrox leak and plans to fix it, but could not shut off the gas immediately and keep it running. supply to customers. A large pipeline replacement program was underway in the city, he added.

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