A US/EU initiative to cut the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, will focus on the oil and gas industry, it was revealed today.
105 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce their emissions by 30% by the end of the decade, compared with 2020 levels.
Signatories to the pledge, formally launched this afternoon at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, represent about 70% of global wealth and include half the top 30 methane-emitting countries.
The US president, Joe Biden, described the pledge as a “game changing commitment”.
The executive director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said it was “huge”. If the emissions cuts were achieved it would be the equivalent of decarbonising the entire transport sector, he said.
But some climate and pollution campaigners say the pledge needed to go further.
Three of the top five emitting countries, China, Russia and India, have not signed up. The signatories are committing to a collective goal but the pledge is not legally binding. It also does not include changes to behaviour that could deliver big emissions cuts.
“Greatest potential for cuts is in the energy sector”
Methane accounts for about a third of the global warming since pre-industrial times and levels in the atmosphere are rising faster than ever.
The heat-trapping power of methane is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide in the short term. So, cutting methane is critical to slowing climate change in the next decade and holding temperature rise to 1.5C.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, told delegates at COP26:
“The greatest potential for [methane] cuts, without any doubt, is in the energy sector.”
As part of its commitment, the European Commission is proposing new rules next month for measuring, reporting and verifying methane emissions. There would be limits on releasing methane into the atmosphere (venting) and flaring (burning methane) and there would be new rules on detecting and repairing leaks.
An independent international methane emissions observatory is to be set up through the United Nations Environment Programme.
There were clear benefits to cutting methane emissions, for people, as well as the climate, Mrs von der Leyen said.
“If we deliver on this pledge, we can prevent over 200,000 premature deaths, we can prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma-related emergency room visits and over 20 million tonnes of crop losses a year by losing ground level ozone pollution.”
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation will regulate methane losses from existing oil and gas pipelines, the summit was told.
The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau of Canada, pledged to reduce methane emissions from his country’s oil and gas industry by 75% by 2030 on 2012 levels.
In the UK, methane emissions from onshore sites are regulated by the Environment Agency.
Last month, DrillOrDrop reported on an investigation by the Clean Air Task Force, which recorded methane emissions at 14 out of 17 onshore oil sites in England it visited. There were emissions from vent pipes and stacks, hoses, pipes, pumps, valves, separator tanks, tank hatches and, in one case, the well head.
Data compiled by the Oil & Gas Authority from industry reports shows that 21 producing onshore oil and gas fields vented gases in 2020. Eight fields reported they had flared gas in that year.
DrillOrDrop asked the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy what action it would be taking to support its signature on the Global Methane Pledge. A spokesperson said:
“The UK is proud to be one of the first supporters of The Global Methane Pledge, and it is brilliant to see momentum building, with over 100 governments signing up in Glasgow today.
“Over the past 30 years the UK has cut its methane emissions by almost 60%, more than any other OECD country. Just this year the UK oil and gas industry published plans to cut emission in half by 2030, and we are continuing to enhance the efficiency of our livestock production, producing pork with 40% less GHG emissions than in 1990.”
“Must be made legally-binding”
Environmental groups described the pledge as a step forward but pointed to flaws.
Juan Pablo Osornio, head of the Greenpeace International delegation, said:
“This initiative needs to be the start and not the finish of the ambition on cutting this potent greenhouse gas,”
“The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] says we need to cut all emissions in half by 2030 if we hope to keep global temperature rises within 1.5C. If we drastically slash fossil fuels we’d cut methane and carbon emissions at the same time, and have a much better chance of meeting that goal.
“And by not including meat reduction or pledges to change people’s diets in this commitment, governments are giving a free pass to Big Agriculture.
“this announcement dodges what’s needed.”
Campaigners at Glasgow Calls Out Polluters said today:
“We know that there’s no way to limit warming to 1.5 degrees without acting on methane.
“It has contributed about 0.5C to warming to-date and, although it doesn’t stay as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, in the first 20 years after its release it is 80 times more powerful at heating.
“So this pledge is a step forward that needs to be made legally binding. It will hopefully begin to force oil and gas corporations to fix the emissions from dangerous fossil fuel extraction.
“As Ursula von der Leyen said, this is the ‘lowest hanging fruit’.”
DrillOrDrop’s reporting from COP26 has been made possible by individual donations from readers