Australia rejects US, EU call for global methane agreement

Australia's energy sector emitted 548,000 tons of methane in 2020, or 0.7 per cent of the global total. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Australia is rejecting a push by the United States and the European Union to join a global pact to cut methane emissions, expected to be announced at the crucial COP26 summit in Glasgow which starts on Sunday (Oct 31).

About 35 nations are expected to commit to support a collective goal to cut output of the greenhouse gas by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by the end of the decade.

While Australia's role as a major producer of fossil fuels and agricultural products make it a major emitter, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday his country would not sign up to the deal.

"What we've said very clearly, though, is we're not signing up to the 2030 methane request," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

In an op-ed in the Australian newspaper on Thursday, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said: "We won't sign our country up to policies that undermine the prosperity of our regions or make life harder for everyday Australians.

"Cutting methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, as some have called for, will do just that."

The move may place further international pressure on Australia, which is being criticised by climate activists for not doing enough to cut emissions.

Methane emissions - which come from natural gas, open pit coal mines as well as cattle and sheep - are the second-biggest cause of climate change behind carbon dioxide (CO2). They trap more heat than CO2 emissions but break down faster than CO2 in the atmosphere.

On Tuesday, Mr Morrison - who will attend COP26 - finally agreed to a plan to zero out its emissions by 2050, but said he would not enshrine the target in law, and would continue to rely on fossil fuels and projects designed to offset planet-warming pollution.

"Almost half of Australia's annual methane emissions comes from the agriculture sector, where no affordable, practical and large-scale way exists to reduce it other than by culling herd sizes," Mr Taylor said. "What activists in Australia and elsewhere want is an end to the beef industry."

The nation's energy sector emitted 548,000 tonnes of methane last year, or 0.7 per cent of the global total, according to the International Energy Agency.

While the Paris-based adviser says that could be cut as much as 41 per cent at no net cost, Mr Taylor defended the industry.

"Calls to reduce methane emissions from the gas sector, a critical fuel source that complements the increasing share of renewables in our electricity grid, by shutting down production and generation is an invitation for the type of chaos we are seeing in Europe at the moment," he said.

National Party leader Barnaby Joyce said excluding methane from Australia's 2050 target was necessary because a 30 per cent reduction in methane emissions would spell disaster for the beef, feedlot, dairy and coal mining industries.

"The only way you can get your 30 per cent by 2030 reduction in methane on 2020 levels would be to grab a rifle and start shooting your cattle," Mr Joyce told reporters in Canberra.

Australia's gas industry leaders said in September that cutting methane emissions has long been a priority for the industry and said the methane leakage rate for Australia's gas industry was about 0.7 per cent of production compared with 1.2 per cent for US gas production.

Meanwhile, New Zealand, another major methane emitter through its dairy and sheep industries, may sign the Global Methane Pledge.

"New Zealand is actively considering signing up to the pledge and will take a decision soon," a spokesman for Minister of Climate Change James Shaw said.

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