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COP26: US, EU unveil plan to cut methane emissions by 2030

November 2, 2021

European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen has said a global methane reduction pledge sponsored by the EU and the US will "immediately slow down climate change." Over 80 countries have signed on to the pledge.

This Russian Gazprom plant produces methane, ethane and various petroleum gases
Methane is used to supply power stations and heat homesImage: Yuri Smityuk/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Over 80 countries agreed to a framework Tuesday at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow that aims to cut global methane emissions by 30% before the end of the decade.

The plan, called the "Global Methane Pledge," is being spearheaded by the administration of US President Joe Biden and the European Union.

"One of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade to keep 1.5 decades in reach to reduce our methane emissions as quickly as possible," Biden said during the climate conference. "It is one of the most potent greenhouse gases there is."

Major emitters missing

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will "immediately slow down climate change." 

Von der Leyen said that around 30% of global warming since the industrial revolution is due to methane.

"Today global methane emissions grow faster than at any time in the past," she said adding that reducing methane is one of the most effective ways to reduce near-term warming and keep the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming alive. 

Brazil, a major methane emitter, was one of the signatories to the agreement. However, China, Russia and India, who are also major emitters, did not sign onto the pledge. 

US already drawing up plans

Helen Mountford, the vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, said the agreement "sets a strong floor in terms of the ambition we need globally."

"Strong and rapid action to cut methane emissions offers a range of benefits, from limiting near-term warming and curbing air pollution to improved food security and better public health," Mountford said in a press release.

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The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that it was planning "comprehensive new protections to sharply reduce pollution from the oil and natural gas industry."

"The proposed rule would reduce 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide," the EPA said in a statement.

"That's more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from all US passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019," it added.

Why is methane so important?

Methane, also known by its chemical compound CH4, is a potent gas that has a big impact on global warming. Emissions of methane come from both manmade and natural sources.

It is found not only in the natural gas that supplies power stations and heats homes, but also the stuff that wafts from landfills, rice paddies, the intestines of cows, wetlands, and in some instances, supposedly "green" hydropower reservoirs. 

Although the amount of methane that is emitted is not as great as the amount of CO2, a single ton of methane causes roughly the equivalent warming of at least 28 tons of CO2 over the course of a century. And in the last two decades alone, countries around the world have managed to increase output by 10%. 

Humans are responsible for 60% of emissions, with farming taking the top spot, followed by the fossil fuel industry and the waste sector.

While there are solutions to make cuts here and there, one major risk factor is the thawing of the permafrost. As the Earth warms up, these long-frozen areas start to release thousands of years of methane and CO2 that have been locked up for millennia.

ab,wd/wmr (AFP, Reuters) 

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