China, the world’s largest emitter of methane, has unveiled a long-awaited plan to tackle the greenhouse gas ahead of a rare meeting between president Xi Jinping and the US’s Joe Biden, fuelling speculation that the world’s two largest economies could agree a new climate deal.
Despite being responsible for 14 per cent of the world’s methane emissions, China has not joined a global pact signed by more than 150 countries to reduce output by 30 per cent by 2030.
In a statement on Tuesday, Beijing vowed to “effectively improve” its monitoring and supervision systems for methane pollution in its five-year plan.
The plan, unveiled after a four-day climate meeting between China and the United States at Sunnylands in California, stated the country will deploy new technologies to spot methane emissions, and included strategies to lower the amount of gas released in all sectors from farming to energy and waste.
However, it did not specify how much it wants to reduce its emissions and by when.
The meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Xi is scheduled to take place next week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco.
The US believes that the two sides will be able to made some modest announcements following their meeting, but the fundamental differences in the relationship will remain unchanged, the Associated Press reported citing a person familiar with the planning.
Sunnylands, a retreat located in the southern California desert, was where former US president Barack Obama and Mr Xi reached a historic agreement 10 years ago on a US-China climate deal that paved the way for the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The US and China jointly agreed to work together on measuring and reducing methane at the Glasgow climate summit in 2021.
China’s announcement was welcomed by Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber, who called it a “critical step for global climate action”.
China has already set a goal to bring carbon dioxide emissions to a peak by 2030 and achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2060.
Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas. It is the second-worst contributor to global heating after CO2, accounting for roughly one-third of warming since the industrial era.
Cutting down methane is crucial to reducing the worsening impacts of the climate crisis. A UN report in 2021 found that rapid action on methane emissions could shave 0.3C off global temperatures by 2045.
India, the second largest emitter of methane, also did not join the pact.
Bringing large emitters like China and India on board to announce strong cuts in methane emissions was a crucial step for the upcoming climate talks taking place in Dubai in less than four weeks.
However, experts say the plan is largely vague and does not provide clear targets.
“The objectives mentioned in the plan are too ambiguous, and contain mainly descriptive text, no specific targets in methane emissions reduction,” Yan Qin, lead carbon analyst at Refinitiv, told Reuters.
However, others see it as a step in the right direction. Climate analyst Li Shuo, incoming director of the China Climate Hub at the Asia Society, told the news agency that the plan’s release potentially “paves the way” for a joint statement from the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the coming weeks.