Ahead of President Joe Biden’s first address to the United Nations on Tuesday and just six weeks ahead of the U.N.’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the U.S. and the European Union agreed try to cut methane emissions by a third compared with 2020 levels by the end of the decade. The plan targets mostly fossil fuels.
“This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit, like improving public health and agricultural output,” Biden said.
Biden made the remark before meeting virtually with world leaders behind closed doors during the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, according to E&E News:
If successful, the initiative could go a long way toward blunting the impact of the planet-warming gas and curbing the worst effects of climate change. But the U.S.- and E.U.-led effort faces a long list of challenges, both on the international stage and back home.
Those include buy-in from some of the world’s biggest emitters, the lack of a detailed plan and long-running concerns that methane emissions are notoriously underreported. The new methane pledge also is missing an enforcement mechanism, as well as sector-specific goals or national targets, experts said.
That said, Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen still see the methane campaign as a critical step toward rallying the world on climate ahead of global warming talks that begin Oct. 31.
“On the road to @COP26 we will reach out to global partners to bring as many as possible on board for tackling methane emissions,” von der Leyen wrote last week in a Twitter post.
The White House has said Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Mexico, and the U.K. all have indicated their support for the methane pledge.
The White House also embraces the claim that 60 percent of methane emissions is caused by human activity, with most coming from agriculture, fossil fuels, and waste. And that fracking for natural gas has increased methane emissions.
But even these goals are good enough for environmentalists.
“While it is encouraging to see governments pledge to take serious action, the emissions target should be much stronger,” Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement. “We know that more aggressive cuts in methane are well within reach over the next decade, and are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis.”
“Drew Shindell, professor of climate science at Duke University and chair of the Global Methane Assessment for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said the pledge appears to be intentionally ambiguous,” E&E News reported.
The overall target is fossil fuels.
“Places where there is a big oil and gas sector, such as the United States, Canada or the Middle East, will likely put their efforts there, while in India the focus would be more on agriculture,” E&E News reported.
The outlet reported that the EPA submitted two proposals to the White House last week that would tighten requirements for oil and gas operators to find and fix leaks and to prevent natural gas from escaping into the atmosphere during production, processing, transmission and storage.
And the Clean Air Task Force released a white paper in June that explained ways the EPA could cut oil and gas methane by 65 percent by 2025 through rules for new and existing oil and gas infrastructure.
Meanwhile, a recently released U.N. report claims even if all countries followed through on their current climate pledges, the world would still hit 2.7 degrees Celsius of additional warming by 2100. The Paris climate agreement target is 1.5 degrees.
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