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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

UN announces MARS mission – high-tech, satellite-based global methane detection system


Graphic of methane molecules floating in air Photo: Shutterstock
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we must cut methane emissions at least 30% by 2030 to keep the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit within reach

Photo: Shutterstock

As part of global efforts to slow climate change by tackling methane, the United Nations (UN) has announced a new satellite-based system to detect emissions of the climate warming gas, notifying governments and businesses of sources and encouraging them to take action.

The Methane Alert and Response System (MARS) initiative aims to scale up global efforts to detect and act on major emissions sources in a transparent manner and accelerate implementation of the Global Methane Pledge. It has been set up as part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) strategy to get policy-relevant data into the ‘right hands’ for emissions mitigation.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, contributing at least a quarter of today’s climate warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPPC also says we must cut methane emissions at least 30% by 2030 – the goal of the Global Methane Pledge – to keep the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit within reach. However, UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report published in late October, shortly before the COP27 Climate Summit opened, suggests the world is far off track on efforts to achieve this target.


Developed in the framework of the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway – with initial funding from the European Commission, the US government, Global Methane Hub and the Bezos Earth Fund – MARS will allow UNEP to corroborate emissions reported by companies and characterise changes over time. The new initiative will be implemented with partners including the International Energy Agency, and the UNEP-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition.


MARS is claimed to be the first publicly available global system capable of transparently connecting methane detection to notification processes.


Using data from global mapping satellites, MARS will be able to identify very large methane plumes and methane hot spots; with data from high-resolution satellites used to attribute the emissions to a specific source. UNEP will then notify governments and companies about the emissions, either directly or through partners, so that the responsible entity can take appropriate action.


If requested, MARS partners will provide technical or advisory services such as help in assessing mitigation opportunities. UNEP will continue to monitor the event location and make the data and analysis available to the public between 45 and 75 days after detection.


‘Cutting methane is the fastest opportunity to reduce warming and keep 1.5°C within reach, and this new alert and response system is going to be a critical tool for helping all of us deliver on the Global Methane Pledge,’ says John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.