Policy Brief - Harvard Initiative to Reduce Global Methane Emissions

Updating Estimates of Methane Emissions: The Case of China

  • Zichong Chen
  • Daniel Jacob
| May 2023


The Harvard Initiative to Reduce Global Methane Emissions released its first publication in May 2023: a research brief titled “Updating Estimates of Methane Emissions: The Case of China.” The Initiative is one of five interdisciplinary research clusters funded by the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University. The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements collaborates in the implementation of the Initiative.

The brief summarizes research by Professor Daniel Jacob and postdoctoral fellow Zichong Chen, atmospheric scientists at Harvard University, with their colleagues. Jacob and Chen use high-resolution data from the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), onboard a satellite launched in 2017, to estimate national and sectoral methane emissions more accurately than has been possible in the past. They draw upon atmospheric transport models to invert the satellite observations of methane concentrations, using advanced statistical methods, and infer emissions quantities and locations from the observed atmospheric concentrations. This method has yielded generally higher estimates of emissions than in previous reports, including in the case of China. Future methane-initiative briefs will address similar research the authors and their colleagues are conducting in the United States, Latin America, North Africa, and other countries and regions.

An accurate picture of aggregate and sector-level methane emissions is important to better target mitigation policies. It is hoped that the results of the research described here and in subsequent briefs will advance national efforts and international collaboration aimed at reducing methane emissions.

The Harvard Initiative to Reduce Global Methane Emissions seeks meaningful and sustained progress in global methane-emissions reductions through research and effective engagement with policymakers in government and key stakeholders in business, nongovernmental organizations, and international institutions. Reduced methane emissions can significantly reduce, in the near term, the magnitude of climate change and its associated impacts.

The Initiative’s objectives span the full range of disciplines and topics associated with this challenge. Among its objectives are to build on scientific research on measurement and attribution of emissions; understand legal, regulatory, and political opportunities and constraints to methane-emissions reductions in the United States; design policies that might best contribute to methane emissions reduction; work effectively through existing international venues, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; and define roles that business and international and multilateral organizations can play in this effort.

Professor Jacob is one of seventeen Harvard faculty members participating in the Harvard Initiative to Reduce Global Methane Emissions — from six Harvard schools and six academic disciplines. The Principal Investigator of the Initiative is Robert Stavins — also Director of the Harvard Project.

Read more here about the Initiative and its funding from the Salata Institute.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
For Academic Citation: Chen, Zichong and Daniel Jacob. “Updating Estimates of Methane Emissions: The Case of China.” Policy Brief, Harvard Initiative to Reduce Global Methane Emissions, May 2023.

The Authors