On 7 November 2023, the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), along with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA), the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and eight other relevant ministries and agencies unveiled China’s Methane Emission Control Action Plan (short: methane action plan). This initiative is strategically timed before the pivotal UN COP28 meeting on climate change, highlighting the nation’s commitment to addressing the impact of methane emissions on a warming climate.
The methane action plan is developed to implement the 14th Five-Year Plan and the 2035 Vision Outline for China’s national economic and social development. Reducing methane emissions will also be crucial for China to meet its “dual carbon” goals— reaching peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. As a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, methane will need to be part of any set of policies addressing greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the plan does not set firm emission reduction targets and time tables, it does provide a framework and instructions for local government, private and public enterprises, as well as financial institutions to issue their own plans to reduce methane emission.
The plan aims to strengthen coordination between air pollution prevention and methane emission control, systematically and reasonably control methane emissions, and address climate change as part of the national strategy. The plan emphasizes the need to enhance statistical monitoring, regulatory infrastructure, and technological and management capabilities to effectively control methane emissions. The overall goals include establishing policies, technologies, and standards for methane emission control, improving statistical accounting and monitoring capabilities, and making positive progress in methane utilization and emission control efforts.
The plan outlines key tasks, including strengthening monitoring and accounting systems, promoting methane utilization in the energy sector, controlling methane emissions in agriculture (particularly from livestock and paddy fields), improving control of methane emissions from waste and sewage treatment, and coordinating methane pollution control. It also emphasizes the importance of technological innovation, regulatory frameworks, and international cooperation in methane governance.
It sets some goals for the 14th and 15th Five-Year Plans, outlining tasks for key sectors, including energy, agriculture, waste treatment sectors.
- By 2025, the annual utilization of methane gas from coal mines will reach 6 billion cubic meters; by 2030, the collection rate of associated gas (including methane) from oilfields will be on par with international advanced standards.
- By 2025, the comprehensive utilization rate of livestock and poultry manure will reach more than 80%, and by 2030, it will reach more than 85%.
- By 2025, the resource utilization rate of urban domestic waste nationwide will reach about 60%. Generally urban waste facilities and landfills are considered as one of major methane sources in urban areas.
- Harmless disposal of urban sludge will reach 90% by 2025.
- By 2025, the ability to coordinate methane emission control will be significantly improved.
The implementation involves establishing monitoring and reporting systems, promoting methane utilization, reducing routine flaring in oil and gas operations, controlling methane emissions in agriculture, optimizing waste and sewage treatment, and enhancing coordinated control of pollutants and methane. The plan also emphasizes innovation in technology, regulatory standards, and economic incentives, as well as active participation in global methane governance and cooperation.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates China’s energy-related methane emissions during 2022 at 55.7 million tons or 15.6% of the global total, making it the highest contributor globally. China’s energy, agriculture and waste sectors represented 45.5%, 33.2% and 18.7% of its methane emissions, respectively. The National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation of China predicts that full implementation of this plan could reduce methane emission by 5 million tons by 2030. However, this falls short of the commitments made by forty countries (as of 4 November 2023), including the U.S. and the EU, under the Global Methane Pledge, aiming to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. On the upside, climate watchers are encouraged by increasing exchanges between China, the US, and the EU on climate matters, with expectations that these could lead to some tangible commitments before or after COP28.
Addressing methane emissions is crucial for the success of China’s climate change mitigation efforts. Many analysts view the Chinese methane reduction action plan as a positive step. However, they caution that much more needs to be done to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The inclusion of methane reduction strategies in the agriculture and animal manure sectors provides hope for innovation and cooperation within these critical areas.