The UAE is hosting this year's climate talks (COP28)
The upcoming UN climate talks in the UAE are anticipated to focus heavily on methane emissions, especially in light of China's recent commitment to include this potent greenhouse gas in its 2035 climate plans. However, experts believe that this development may not significantly impact India, as the country is already implementing initiatives centered around agriculture that have climate co-benefits.
The United States and the European Union have emphasised the urgency to take action on methane, accounting for about 30 per cent of global warming since pre-industrial times (1850-1900).
The UAE, hosting this year's climate talks (COP28), is also expected to announce a commitment from major oil and gas companies to reduce methane leakage.
The EU and the US jointly launched the "Global Methane Pledge" in 2021 to reduce worldwide methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, compared to the 2020 levels.
Around 150 countries have signed on, but China, India, and Russia are among the prominent emitters yet to get on board.
Earlier this month, the US and China, the world's top two carbon emitters, pledged to include methane in their 2035 national plans to reduce emissions of planet-heating gases. This is the first time that China has made such a promise, although without a quantified target.
Some experts believe this move might nudge India to think on similar lines. "Methane has been an academic debate for long, but it is now being positioned as a big issue in geopolitical negotiations. It does not mean that everyone will agree to the methane pledge, but many nations will be forced to start looking at what is happening at methane-emitting sectors internally," said Vaibhav Chaturvedi, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based independent climate think tank Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW).
However, a source in the environment ministry said China's pledge to include methane in the 2035 climate plans is "unlikely to affect India's stance" on methane emissions from the agriculture sector.
During a discussion on emissions from agriculture at COP27, India had criticised rich nations for "searching for cheaper solutions abroad" instead of reducing their emissions through lifestyle changes.
It emphasised that agriculture emissions are "survival emissions" and not "luxury emissions".
Scientists say drastically reducing methane emissions in the country would necessitate extensive transformations in the agriculture sector which India cannot afford at present.
"In India, more than 60 per cent of methane emissions are from the livestock sector, followed by rice cultivation. Both sectors are very complicated for us to deal with," Chaturvedi said.
Chandra Bhushan, the head of a climate think tank based in New Delhi, said that mitigation and adaptation strategies in the agriculture sector are complementary.
He said India at present is focusing on crop diversification and cultivating millets instead of rice could also help reduce methane emissions. "India is concentrating on water conservation through a scheme known as "per drop more crop". Also, a programme has been initiated to enhance the use of organic urea. These practices have climate co-benefits," the climate policy expert said.
He also advocated for the employment of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a farming methodology which can increase rice yield, and help reduce methane emissions and conserve water.
India's policy on GHG emissions from agriculture "may not be guided by external factors", said RR Rashmi, a former climate negotiator with the Indian government who is now a distinguished fellow at New Delhi-based think-tank The Energy Resources Institute.
"Methane emissions reduction is not a priority for India, but this can be done if appropriate technological support from developed countries is available and it should not impact productivity," he said.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), methane has accounted for about 30 per cent of global warming since pre-industrial times and is proliferating faster than at any other time since record keeping began in the 1980s.
Methane comes from both natural sources and human activities. NASA estimates that around 60 per cent of today's methane emissions result from human activities.
Since CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years, even if emissions were immediately and dramatically reduced, it would not have an effect on the climate until later in the century.
In contrast, methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime (around 12 years), but is a much more potent greenhouse gas, absorbing much more energy while it exists in the atmosphere.
The UN says that human-caused methane emissions could be reduced by as much as 45 per cent by 2030. This reduction could avert nearly 0.3 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2045.