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US, EU issue global pledge to cut global methane levels by 30% by 2030

17 September 2021 Amena Saiyid

The US and EU launched a global drive 17 September to reduce 30% of the world's methane emissions from 2020 levels by the decade's end in response to recent UN studies that say such cuts can help meet the Paris Agreement using existing technologies.

Announcing the global methane pledge at the virtual Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, US President Joe Biden said the initiative would not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but also will result in a side benefit of improving public health and agricultural output.

Methane, though a short-lived GHG, has a global warming potential that is 86 times that of CO2 over a 20-year span.

Biden said the recent findings of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study represents "a code red for humanity" and that the window for acting on climate change is narrowing.

"We don't have a lot of time," he said.

A UN analysis of updated national climate plans, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted to meet the Paris Agreement on climate that was released 17 September said wealthy nations need to do more to address climate change.

"Unless climate action is taken immediately, it may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7 degrees Celsius, by the end of this century," the UN said in a release.

The analysis includes updates to the NDCs of 113 countries that represent around 49% of global emissions, including the nations of the EU and the US.

Those countries overall expect their greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010, but UN Secretary General António Guterres said these plans are insufficient and need to be strengthened.

A day earlier, the UN released a multiagency "United in Science" report on climate, which said reductions in atmospheric methane in the short term could support reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement.

GHGs continue to increase

The report also said concentrations of major GHGs—CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide—continued to increase through 2020 and the first half of 2021.

Gutteres said the 16 September report "shows how off course we are" from the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.

"We believe the collective goal is both ambitious but realistic. And we urge you to join us in announcing this pledge at COP26," Biden told the more than a dozen heads of state, special envoys, and ministers participating in the forum.

These included the leaders of Argentina, Bangladesh, the EU, the European Council, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and the UK along with special envoys from China and the Russian Federation. Germany and India's ministers of environment attended too.

EU President Ursula von der Leyen agreed, saying "let's boost up the Methane Reduction Alliance" in a 17 September tweet.

"The International Energy Agency reckons the world already possesses the know-how and technology to avoid as much as three quarters of the current emissions of methane, that's CH4, produced by the oil and gas industry," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in prepared remarks, adding that his country has reduced methane emissions by about 60%.

Johnson agreed with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid, who said developing nations, such as her country—perched atop the Bay of Bengal, are on the front line of climate change.

"They don't lack the will, they don't lack the technologies, to make a difference, they simply lack the resources," he said, calling on G20 leaders to help those less fortunate.

Welcoming the global methane pledge, Italian President Mario Draghi, in a YouTube video as the White House didn't air speeches from other leaders, called for a shared understanding of the need to reduce all GHGs significantly, including methane.

But, he added, "we cannot do this alone."

Existing technologies can reach 30% cuts

Current emissions of methane—95% of which come from fossil fuels, waste, and livestock—are growing rapidly and will not allow the world to reach the 1.5 degrees C goal, according to a joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) study released in early May.

This study concluded that technologies currently exist that can capture about 30% of the methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations, coal mining, wastewater treatment processes, and landfills as well as manage methane releases from rice cultivation, manure, and enteric fermentation, or microbial digestion of food inside livestock.

Biden said the US is doing its part to take actions to limit methane releases.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is rewriting separate rules to limit and cap methane releases from extracting, processing, distributing, and transporting oil and gas products from new plus existing operations. Both proposals, which were due in September, are expected to be released in October.

In August, the US Department of Treasury, as a result of a Biden climate finance order in May, directed all multilateral development banks in which it has a say to finance methane reduction as well as carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) at existing fossil fuel projects.

A bill currently being debated in the US House of Representatives that would implement significant portions of Biden's Build Back Better plan includes a methane fee for producers of oil and gas as well as companies involved in transportation and storage of these fossil fuels for allowing releases of this GHG. The legislation, which will be folded into a budget reconciliation measure, will be taken up by the House in the coming days along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

An analysis by the US Senate Majority Leader's office showed the US can easily reach 9.1% of its goal of halving GHGs by 2030 if the US Congress adopts the methane fee provision included in the reconciliation measure.

"Full of sound and fury"

Both allies and critics of the Biden administration viewed the announcement with mixed sentiments.

Clint Woods, a policy fellow for regulations with the libertarian Americans for Prosperity and a former EPA deputy assistant administrator for air and radiation, dismissed the global pledge, calling it "full of sound and fury, signifying a nothingburger."

"It's tough to have a policy rollout by unaccountable climate czars, on the eve of [New York Climate Week] and as a prelude to COP26. The action is both feckless and unconstitutional, but they've done it," Woods told Net-Zero Business Daily.

In contrast, the Sierra Club came at it from a different angle, saying the US can do more to cut up to 65% of methane emissions.

"Global targets are a good first step, but this is not enough: the real solution to the climate crisis is stopping the expansion of the oil and gas industry and swiftly transitioning to clean energy that is accessible to all," Kelly Sheehan Martin, senior director of Sierra Club's energy campaigns, said in a 17 September statement.

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