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The US and EU plan on Friday to commit to cutting methane pollution by 30 per cent over the next decade and are lobbying other large emitters of the potent greenhouse gas to join the effort.
The pact is designed to push methane up the agenda ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, said people briefed on the plan, and will take effect in October. The UK would also be included, they said.
The targets would not set emissions limits for individual sectors, the people said, disappointing some climate analysts who otherwise welcomed news of the forthcoming deal. However, they praised efforts to curtail a greenhouse gas that has a warming potential more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years.
“The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] was crystal clear: we have to drive down methane emissions to have any threat of a dream of getting to one and a half degrees,” said Jules Kortenhorst, chief executive of the RMI, a US-based clean-energy non-profit, referring to the UN’s climate study about efforts to keep global warming within 1.5C by 2050.
“It makes absolute sense for nations to focus on methane as the most urgent lever,” he said. The IPCC has estimated that cuts in methane and other shortlived pollutants could reduce the rise in global warming by 0.2C by 2040 and 0.8C by 2100.
The deal comes as the EU and US also prepare their own separate policies to cut pollution of methane. Emissions are difficult to measure but the International Energy Agency said about 60 per cent of the 570m tonnes emitted last year were related to human activities such as agriculture, energy production and transport, and waste.
The Biden White House has made methane-emissions curbs a priority, and already reinstated Obama-era rules to control energy-sector methane pollution that had been rolled back by the Trump administration. The US state department did not respond to requests for comment.
But some analysts said that the new pact’s effect on global emissions would be limited.
A UN report on methane in May called for an urgent 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions in the next decade.
Maria Pastukhova, senior policy adviser at E3G, a European climate change think-tank, said the deal’s more modest 30 per cent target was “problematic”. To drive down global emissions, the deal would need other large methane polluters to sign up.
“Even if the US, UK and EU hit the target, it basically doesn’t mean anything for the global [emissions] level without China, Russia and India,” said Pastukhova.
While reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector would be relatively easy using known techniques, cutting emissions from agriculture, the biggest single source of human-related methane pollution, would be more difficult.
This could make large emitters such as Brazil reluctant to sign up to a pledge calling for across-the-board cuts, said some analysts, while poor emissions data in countries such as Russia and Nigeria could also undermine a global pact.
But countries with large energy sectors that have already committed to methane reductions, such as the US, could gain a geopolitical advantage by reducing the pollution, said Paul Bledsoe, adviser to the Progressive Policy Institute, a US think-tank.
“The US sees a strategic opportunity to have lower methane-intensive gas displace Russian gas,” Bledsoe said.
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