By Mary Hearty

To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid near-term tipping points, the world must rapidly reduce methane emissions in addition to decarbonizing the global energy sector.

It is for this reason that the United Nations (UN) has launched a new satellite-based global system to detect emissions of methane gas.

Launched at the 27th Conference of Parties on climate change (COP 27), the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), is a data-to-action platform set up as part of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) strategy to get policy-relevant data into the right hands for emissions mitigation.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, contributing at least a quarter of today’s climate warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we must cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030.

“As UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report showed before this climate summit, the world is far off track on efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

“Reducing methane emissions can make a big and rapid difference, as this gas leaves the atmosphere far quicker than carbon dioxide. The Methane Alert and Response System is a big step in helping governments and companies deliver on this important short-term climate goal.”

Connecting methane detection to notification processes

MARS will be the first publicly available global system capable of transparently connecting methane detection to notification processes. It will use state-of-the-art satellite data to identify major emission events, notify relevant stakeholders, and support and track mitigation progress.

“We are seeing methane emissions increase at an accelerated rate. With this initiative, armed with greater data and transparency, companies and governments can make greater strides to reduce methane emissions and civil society can keep them accountable to their promises,” said Dr. Kelly Levin, Chief of Science, Data and Systems Change at the Bezos Earth Fund.

Beginning with very large point sources from the energy sector, MARS will integrate data from the rapidly expanding system of methane-detecting satellites to include lower-emitting area sources and more frequent detection.

Data on coal, waste, livestock and rice will be added gradually to MARS to support Global Methane Pledge implementation.

“Cutting methane is the fastest opportunity to reduce warming and keep 1.5°C within reach, and this new alert and response system is going to be a critical tool for helping all of us deliver on the Global Methane Pledge,” said John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Components of the Methane Alert and Response System

MARS will use data from global mapping satellites to identify very large methane plumes and methane hot spots and attribute the emissions to a specific source. UNEP will then notify governments and companies about the emissions, either directly or through partners, so that the responsible entity can take appropriate action.

If requested, MARS partners will provide technical or advisory services such as help in assessing mitigation opportunities. UNEP will continue to monitor the event location and make the data and analysis available to the public between 45 and 75 days after detection.

Developed under the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway

The platform has been developed in the framework of the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway to catalyze methane emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector, advancing both climate progress and energy security.

The Energy Pathway was launched in June 2022 by the United States, the European Union, and 11 countries namely, Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, and Oman- with initial funding from the European Commission, the US Government, Global Methane Hub, and the Bezos Earth Fund.

These participating countries commit to supporting these efforts by providing new technical and financial resources and by enhancing domestic projects and policy action. Countries and supporting organizations have announced nearly US$60 million in funding to support the implementation of the Pathway.

“Therefore Global Methane Hub is pleased to partner with UNEP and the Bezos Earth Fund, on providing critical resources – to the MARS initiative – that can enable the identification and rapid response to major methane emissions from the energy sector, as well as take the first steps in enabling satellite observations to address methane emissions from the agricultural sector.”

In addition to supporting MARS, the Global Methane Hub and the Bezos Earth Fund are providing funding for other UNEP IMEO activities.

These include baseline studies and initial work on agricultural methane emissions, where integrating multi-scale ground measurements with emerging satellite capacity is expected to provide improved quantification.

MARS will allow UNEP to corroborate emissions reported by companies and characterize changes over time. MARS will be implemented with partners including the International Energy Agency, and the UNEP-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

The Energy Pathway is a critical implementation step of the Global Methane Pledge that will accelerate the deployment of the fastest and most cost-effective methane mitigation solutions available today.

“The science is clear. We need to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030, to keep 1.5°C alive. Fortunately, action on methane emissions are one of the most cost-effective and impactful action a country can take,” said Marcelo Mena, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Global Methane Hub.