Big emitters of the heat-trapping gas methane can expect a call from the United Nations starting next year, when the global body launches a new platform to combine existing systems for tracking the potent greenhouse gas from space.
The U.N. Environment Programme said Friday that the new Methane Alert and Response System — MARS for short — is intended to help companies act on major emissions sources but also provide data in a transparent and independent way.
It draws on satellite measurements performed by NASA and the European, German and Italian space agencies. Data from private satellite operators will also be incorporated in future.
“Each of these instruments give us a correct answer to a question that is slightly different, because each of them see different things," said Manfredi Caltagirone, head of the International Methane Emissions Observatory at UNEP. "So the only way you can have a correct picture is to connect them all together.”
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The data will be released 45 to 75 days after it is gathered, meaning companies will have sufficient time to fix the leaks by the time they become public.
“We think it is important not to just create a shaming tool, but to engage the operators and governments so they can act on the specific event," said Caltagirone.
Releasing the measurements on a U.N.-backed platform would also ensure that it is considered neutral and reliable, providing a standard that prevents companies from “shopping around” for data that makes them look best, he said.
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There will be no way to force any emitters to take action though.
“We are realistic that certain companies and certain countries will be more cooperative than others," said Caltagirone. “But we can make sure this information is available to those who are interested in it.”
The first data will be published in the second half of next year, focusing on large methane leaks. As it matures, the platform will incorporate less dramatic but equally significant sources of emissions such as livestock and rice farms.
Cutting methane emissions worldwide is key to the Paris climate accord's ambitious goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times. The United States, European Union and others last year launched a pledge to cut overall methane emissions worldwide by 30% by 2030.