The globally-averaged atmospheric methane abundance determined from an extensive network of surface air sampling sites was constant at similar to1751 ppb from 1999 through 2002. Assuming that the methane lifetime has been constant, this implies that during this 4-year period the global methane budget has been at steady state. We also observed a significant decrease in the difference between northern and southern polar zonal annual averages of CH4 from 1991 to 1992. Using a 3-D transport model, we show that this change is consistent with a decrease in CH4 emissions of similar to10 Tg CH4 from north of 50degreesN in the early-1990s. This decrease in emissions may have accelerated the global methane budget towards steady state. Based on current knowledge of the global methane budget and how it has changed with time, it is not possible to tell if the atmospheric methane burden has peaked, or if we are only observing a persistent, but temporary pause in its increase.