News - Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

HPCA Hosts COP 28 Side Event on the Challenges and Opportunities of Reducing Global Methane Emissions

  • Doug Gavel
| Dec. 13, 2023

Harvard Project on Climate Agreements COP28 Coverage

The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA) assembled a panel of leading academics and government officials to discuss strategies for achieving significant methane emissions reductions at relatively low costs at an official COP 28 Side Event on Dec. 6, 2023. The event, titled “Reducing Global Methane Emissions: Imperatives, Opportunities, and Challenges,” was moderated by HPCA Director Robert Stavins.

The panelists, in addition to Stavins, were:

  • Claire Henly, Senior Advisor for Non-CO2 GHGs, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate;
  • Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Harvard University; and
  • Helena Varkkey, Associate Professor of Environmental Politics and Governance, Universiti Malaya.

James Stock, the Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability, and Director of the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University, framed the context of the discussion with opening remarks.

“This audience needs no words of introduction to why methane provides immediate challenges, urgent opportunities, but also the possibility of driving quick emissions reductions that could ease our transition path as we deal with more challenging carbon dioxide emissions down the road,” he said.

Stavins provided an overview of the new Harvard Initiative on Reducing Global Methane Emissions, one of five research clusters anchored within the Salata Institute. He explained to attendees that the initiative is designed to engage stakeholders in government, business, NGOs, and international organizations in research and policy solutions to address the methane challenge.

“Focusing on methane can give the world time to bend the curve on CO₂ emissions, conduct research on carbon mitigation and on carbon removal, and then begin to implement longer term strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” he remarked. “This is not an either or. This is not methane instead of CO₂. This is methane and CO₂, and for that matter, other greenhouse gases.”

Jacob discussed the research that he and his team are doing to detect methane emissions using satellite-based technology and attribute these emissions to specific sources.

“Quantifying methane emissions is essential for climate action, but it is a very difficult task,” he explained. Yet the task is becoming more achievable, he said, by mapping so-called “global hot spots” of concentrations and using sophisticated statistical methods to convert this data such that emissions-locations may be identified.

Henly spoke of the Biden Administration’s efforts to address the methane challenge, including the Methane Finance Sprint, launched in April with the goal of raising $200 million to assist low- and middle-income nations to fund emissions reduction programs across all sectors. The Sprint has now raised more than $1 billion from governments, the European Commission, philanthropies, and the private sector. 

It was also announced during COP 28, Henly explained, that six of the world’s largest private sector food companies have launched the “Dairy Methane Alliance,” in which participants, including Nestle, pledge to begin reporting methane emissions by mid-2024, and develop action plans to reduce their methane emissions before the end of 2024.

In her presentation, Varkkey discussed the progress Malaysia is making in climate policy. Methane, she said, represents approximately 15 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the country, a number that is expected to decline after the government signed onto the Global Methane Pledge two years ago.

“It is really important for Malaysia to have decisive methane action even while we are planning for CO₂ and other reductions as well,” she said. While the government has not yet developed a national methane reduction action plan, Varkkey remarked, there are indications that emissions are already dropping due to positive actions by the private sector.

The panel discussion was followed by a lively Q-and-A during which panelists responded to questions focusing on how landfill emissions are measured, the importance of public awareness of methane emissions, links between methane and nitric oxide in the agriculture sector, potential new technologies that can be used to abate methane emissions, the prospects for a binding international agreement to impose costs on methane emissions, and the ways in which Harvard University is leveraging its platform to deepen collaboration with the Chinese government, academic institutions, and companies around climate change issues.

The side event was co-sponsored by the Foundation Environment - Law Society (FURG).

For more information on this publication: Please contact Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
For Academic Citation: Gavel, Doug. “HPCA Hosts COP 28 Side Event on the Challenges and Opportunities of Reducing Global Methane Emissions .” News, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, December 13, 2023.

The Author


Robert N. Stavins