As countries and energy companies begin to translate methane reduction pledges into tangible progress, satellite technology is helping to determine where methane emissions are occurring, how much of them are emitted, and who is responsible for them.

The new methane alert and response system, called MARS, gives countries, energy companies, communities and stakeholders around the world a glimpse of the transparency they can expect as more and more more satellites collect more data on emissions from more regions of the globe.

Developed by the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Methane Emissions Observatory, or IMEO, with input from scientific and remote sensing experts from around the world – including scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund – MARS will consolidate methane emissions data from a growing ecosystem of satellites to detect emissions, and notify and engage with key stakeholders to respond to and mitigate those emissions.

Identify methane emissions — large and small

MARS is an ambitious project, and this is just a preview of what’s to come.

First, it will alert stakeholders to super emitters within the energy industry. Studies estimate that these high emission events account for around 10% of global oil and gas emissions.

The IMEO plans to add data sources as they become available, which will also allow the detection and characterization of smaller emissions that contribute to a larger share of the sector’s total methane emissions.

Emissions data from MethaneSAT, which was developed by an affiliate of the Environmental Defense Fund and is scheduled to launch in 2023, will be added to MARS once the satellite comes online.

Unlike existing satellites, MethaneSAT will detect smaller emissions by quantifying emissions at the basin and regional level with unprecedented precision. This rigorous capability will help characterize hotspots and sources in places that would be missed by other satellites.

The rise of increasingly sophisticated methane sensing and the growing attention to methane by industry and policy makers are mutually reinforcing. Better science reinforces the urgency and scale of the problem, which leads to better technology to solve the problem faster and more cost-effectively.

Reducing methane emissions is also an opportunity – the best we have – to slow the rate of warming while decarbonizing our energy systems.

How good data will help reduce emissions

Robust and transparent data and reporting facilitate the definition, validation and achievement of more ambitious methane reduction targets.

The European Union, the United States and more than 100 other countries have joined the Global Methane Pledge, a framework created a year ago for countries to work together to reduce man-made methane emissions by 30% d 2030.

To achieve this goal, government leaders and policy makers need to know how much methane is being emitted and where it is coming from — and who is responsible.

Meanwhile, companies that have set reduction targets need accurate information to operationalize their mitigation efforts, but they often lack real-time, real-world emissions data.

The information from MethaneSAT and the various data streams that will feed MARS will be instrumental in providing transparent and reliable data that regulators and operators can use to develop their action plans.

This data will also help track changes in emissions over time, allowing stakeholders and civil society to assess whether mitigation goals are being met.

The growing availability of high-quality data on methane emissions is essential to quickly unlock rapid reductions. MARS and this new wave of satellite technology will trigger a historic change in the way we understand, see and act on methane emissions around the world.

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