Happy New Year! – 2016 Final Quarter Roundup


Happy New Year to all the readers of Methane International and the GMI community! 2016 was an exciting year for methane-related news, and the end of the year was no less interesting, so let’s recap the latest in methane.

Pair of Studies Detail Rise in Methane Accumulation

Two new studies build upon the world’s understanding of the atmospheric methane cycle and changes in methane accumulation.

The first, published in the journal Earth System Science Data, outlines the global methane budget over the 13-year period from 2000 to 2012. A consortium of researchers under the Global Carbon Project have produced a biennially-updated assessment of global methane concentrations and an analysis of known sources and sinks (sinks are natural features that neutralize methane as a GHG by breaking down CH4 molecules or absorbing the gas back into the earth’s surface). This has allowed them to quantify a global atmospheric balance of methane emitted and methane destroyed or absorbed. The difference in the balance reveals the rate of accumulation (see infographic below). While providing a confident scientific estimate of total methane over the years in question, the research team expresses a high degree of uncertainty in attributing the quantities of methane emitted into and depleted from the atmosphere, stemming primarily from the geographic overlap of diffuse sources and the effects of natural phenomena on the cycle. However, more certainty exists in their understanding of human-induced sources than natural factors, which provides assurance for those who work to mitigate anthropogenic emissions. Read the study abstract and a find a link to the full article here.

(Source: Global Carbon Budget)

A second study, from the journal Environmental Research Letters, is entitled “The growing role of methane in anthropogenic climate change.”  In it, researchers show that while the growth rate of global CO2 emissions is slowing, the growth rate of CH4 emissions has been increasing over the last decade, causing rapid methane accumulation in the atmosphere. This study complements the one above by providing several more recent years of analysis. The researchers estimate that methane concentrations in 2015 reached 1,834 parts per billion (ppb), up from ~1,775 ppb in 2005 when growth rates were flat. However, as in the above study, they also indicate a significant problem in more precisely identifying prime contributors due to the acknowledged uncertainty in the global methane budget. The analysis is able to offer evidence that points to anthropogenic sources as the prime contributor – outlining increases primarily in agricultural and fossil-related emissions while showing that natural wetland emissions have remained stable – but the researchers concede that more attention needs to be paid to accurately quantifying and geographically partitioning the various factors of the budget. The study provides strategies for reducing uncertainties in the methane budget and highlights mitigation opportunities as well.

Together, these studies highlight the work that has been done to develop the methane budget as well as the work that is still needed to address the uncertainties of this important basis of knowledge in the fight against climate change. The fact that so many scientists are working together and focusing their efforts on understanding methane emissions demonstrates the growing understanding of the mounting threat that CH4 poses to climate change as the second-most abundant GHG. Their findings are critical to informing and guiding mitigation action groups, such as GMI, and we wish them continued success in bringing the global picture of atmospheric methane changes more clearly into focus.

Global GHG Emissions Level in 2016 as Paris Agreement Goes Into Effect

As UN negotiators headed to Morocco for COP22 in November to hammer out the rules of last year’s Paris Climate Agreement, a bit of good news greeted them: for the second year in a row, global GHG emissions appear to be unchanged, despite increased global economic output of around 3%. Normally only economic recessions have caused GHG emissions to halt in their historically steady upward climb, but according to a study by a huge research team at the Global Carbon Project and the University of East Anglia, anthropogenic emissions in 2016 are projected to increase by only 0.06% over 2015 (with room for error, they are essentially unchanged).

Source: Global Carbon Project
Source: Global Carbon Project

The study shows decreasing emissions from China and the United States, the world’s first- and second-largest GHG emitters, respectively, as the primary factors holding global emissions level. The fact that both nations have experienced steady GDP growth in 2016, a projection of 6.7% for China and 2.5% for the United States, lends weight to the argument that GHG mitigation actions are not necessarily harmful to economic growth. However, GHG emission increases in developing nations and in the European Union offset the China and U.S. reductions, preventing the year 2016 from seeing global decreases overall.

While two years of unchanged global GHG emissions is good news, it should nonetheless evoke a sense of caution. Two years does not a long-term trend make, nor is it a downward trend that is necessary to make serious headway against severe climate change impacts. Vast amounts of GHGs are still accumulating in the atmosphere year over year. It is encouraging to have evidence that global mitigation efforts are starting to work, but that evidence also serves as a reminder that our efforts must continue and intensify to produce further momentum in the right direction. The work of GHG mitigation and research groups like GMI, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and Global Carbon Project is just as relevant and imperative as ever.

First World Bank Pilot Auction Carbon Credits Redeemed

Last year, the World Bank’s Pilot Auction Facility for Methane and Climate Change Mitigation (PAF) conducted an online auction of put options, providing winning bidders the right to sell future carbon credits to the PAF at a price determined by the auction. GMI was privileged to provide the technical expertise and guidance to the Methane Finance Study Group—convened in late 2012 and facilitated by the World Bank—which spurred creation of this pilot auction program.

Last week, we were pleased to learn the first successful redemption of these carbon credits took place on 30 November. This innovative World Bank auction program has now resulted in the financing of more than $3 million in exchange for carbon credits representing the equivalent of 1.3 million metric tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The $3 million in funds were disbursed for carbon credits derived from landfill methane recovery projects in Brazil, Malaysia and Thailand. “The World Bank Treasury is very pleased to see that the notes succeeded in achieving their intended purpose, to incentivize important carbon emission reduction results on the ground,” said Arunma Oteh, Vice President and Treasurer of the World Bank.

Already, the initial success of the pilot program has spurred greater interest among firms worldwide in PAF carbon credits; a second auction was held in May 2016 and a third auction is planned for January 2017. GMI congratulates the World Bank on its success in bringing innovative carbon/methane-mitigating capital instruments to the market, and stands ready to further support the PAF.

Read the entire story here from the World Bank.

Image result for pilot auction facility logo

GMI Bids Fond Farewell to a Pair of Leaders, and Welcomes a New Team Member

First, a couple of fond farewells:

Henry Ferland, co-director of the GMI Administrative Support Group, recently undertook a new position as the International Coordinator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. In this role, Henry will have a broader international portfolio, helping to coordinate visitors and activities for a myriad of different agreements and relationships that include climate, air quality, and/or radiation issues. Henry has worked at EPA for nearly 25 years, including more than a decade supporting GMI (and its predecessor Methane to Markets). His expertise and contributions to the Initiative will be sorely missed, but we wish him all the best in his new endeavors.

Carey Bylin leaves EPA after nearly 12 years of service to its oil and gas voluntary programs. Some noteworthy achievements include contributing to the design and launch of two new oil and gas partnerships: EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership. These voluntary programs leverage collaboration with oil and gas companies, national governments, and other stakeholders to reduce methane emissions. Carey was also a member of GMI’s Oil & Gas Subcommittee and led a series of successful projects during her tenure at EPA. We wish her well at the California Air Resources Board where she will continue to support climate change efforts.

And now, a warm welcome:

Nick Elger joins GMI after a stint as an ORISE Fellow with EPA’s AgSTAR and Landfill Methane Outreach Program. Nick brings international biogas experience from his time at the University of Minnesota where he worked with communities in Nepal to identify funding opportunities for small-scale biogas systems. He will be working with the Biogas Subcommittee to support program implementation in that sector. We are very excited to welcome Nick to the GMI team.

First-of-its-kind Sustainable Landfill in Texas Becomes a Global Model

The City of Denton Landfill (Texas, USA) reportedly is the first in the world to implement “closed-loop waste management.” This technique combines landfill gas (LFG) capture with landfill mining to sort out and recover reusable and re-sellable plastics and metals, as well the remaining organic material for conversion to biomass energy pellets. Mining reduces the volume of material enough (by an estimated 95%) for the fill space itself to be re-used for new waste placement, thereby extending the life of the landfill essentially indefinitely (i.e., perpetual landfill). Dr. Sahadat Hossain, of the Solid Waste Institute for Sustainability (SWIS) at the University of Texas Arlington, developed this perpetual landfill model to be cost-efficient and potentially profitable. The roughly 20-year cyclical process significantly reduces the need for long-term environmental monitoring, one of the greatest legacy swis-logocosts of landfill management. It also reduces a municipality’s land acquisition costs for future landfill sites, while providing a revenue stream in the forms of cheap, locally-produced energy and reusable materials.

While the concept is readily applicable to U.S. solid waste management sites, even greater potential may reside in many developing countries, where open-pit landfills and open-air trash burning are common solid waste disposal methods. Many of the developing world’s cities do not have the same level of access to public and private funding for landfill projects as their counterparts in developed nations, and cannot readily afford greener and more sanitary forms of waste management. However, the profitability factor of the closed-loop technique, along with potential public health and environmental benefits, could be attractive to both budget-conscious policymakers and investors, creating potential for deployment worldwide (source: Al Jazeera). Speaking with Methane International, Dr. Hossain says SWIS and the City of Denton have already welcomed representatives from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who plan to implement a closed-loop system for their city.

Another sign of global applicability is the group of international students and researchers eager to come to SWIS each year to learnwinter-school-students about emerging methods like this at a two-week “Winter School,” a hands-on landfill sustainability program hosted jointly with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and the City of Denton. Dr. Hossain and his team will welcome the Winter School’s 2017 class of up-and-coming landfill sustainability specialists to Arlington, Texas, on January 16-27, where GMI’s Tom Frankiewicz will be a featured presenter.

And the timing of the gathering couldn’t be better – it just happens to be January of 2017 that the nearby City of Denton’s new landfill system is expected to become fully operational.

Fingerprinting Methane Emissions

As researchers across the world debate the source of recent methane concentration increases, with some indicating fugitive emissions from the fossil fuel industry are most important while others look to those from agriculture and landfills, organizations have answered the call for remote methane detection and monitoring tools to improve measurement reliability. For example, from low-Earth orbit, GMI’s longtime partner, GHGSat has been monitoring methane emissions from Canada’s tar sands, among other targeted sites, since launching its first satellite, CLAIRE, earlier this summer.

Aerial view of the Bakken Oil and Gas Field in North Dakota, U.S., one of the areas included in NOAA’s new study quantifying emissions from oil and gas operations. Credit: NOAA

Earlier this year, a team led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has debuted a method to monitor and fingerprint methane emissions on a larger scale. Collecting samples from a small twin-propeller aircraft, the team uses the light hydrocarbon ethane as a tracer for methane emitted from oil and gas reservoirs as opposed to methane emitted from biological sources. By reviewing variations in ethane concentrations over time, the research team hopes to show how changes in human activities – for example, increases in natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) – have altered methane concentrations and worldwide greenhouse gas loading. Researchers

For more information on the study, check out Scientific American’s recent article or NOAA’s recent news release on the implications of the study.