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Biden Urged to Target Methane Reductions for Quick Win on Climate

With U.S. President Joe Biden’s high-stakes climate leadership summit coming up this Thursday, his administration is under pressure to single out methane for significant reductions, even if it means targeting the oil and gas operations that are a primary source of the climate-busting substance.

U.S. green groups’ argument is the same as it’s been for some time: as a shorter-lived greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span, methane lends itself to the rapid improvements that are needed to build desperately-needed momentum toward climate stability.

“Increased ambition is not just about commitments to decarbonization over the coming decades, it’s also about immediate action to slow the rate of warming now,” said U.S. Environmental Defense Fund Senior VP Mark Brownstein. “And this is the single biggest thing—the most immediate thing—the United States can do to slow the rate of warming our planet is experiencing right now.”

“It will take a while to slow down the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, but methane turns the dial down a lot faster and a lot sooner,” agreed EDF Vice President Derek Walker.

“The burden for reducing methane, the primary component of natural gas, would fall largely on the oil industry that is a chief source of it,” Bloomberg Green reports. “Some administration officials are wary of appearing to attack the industry by targeting methane,” and “oil industry officials have encouraged the administration to seek methane reductions across the economy, including from agriculture.” The industry itself is split on the issue, however, with the American Petroleum Institute supporting a new methane mandate while some smaller, independent U.S. fossils oppose it.

“Environmentalists want the administration to commit to a 40% reduction in methane emissions by 2030, relative to 2005 levels, arguing that’s necessary to keep global temperature from rising more than 1.5°C,” Bloomberg writes. “Activists also argue that an explicit methane target could go a long way to restoring U.S. credibility in the eyes of other nations, after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement and dismantled domestic climate policies.”

Previously, the Obama administration had agreed to a 40 to 45% cut by 2025 in a tripartite deal with Canada and Mexico.

A group of scientists from six countries made a similar case in a statement released Friday by Calabasas, California-based Methane Action. It calls on global leaders to commit to aggressive methane reductions and mitigation, funding for atmospheric methane measurement and reductions, and a global agreement to return methane concentrations to pre-industrial levels.

“Currently, atmospheric methane concentrations are at a record high, about 2.5 times higher than the preindustrial level of ~750 parts per billion, and continue to rise rapidly,” the scientists warn. “A particularly sharp rise in atmospheric methane has been under way since 2007, including the largest annual growth on observational record in 2020 despite the pandemic.” With methane already accounting for 25% of the warming effect driving the climate crisis, methane reductions are “important for avoiding catastrophic climate change, and must be part of any effective strategy for meeting climate goals.”

On Thursday, meanwhile, California and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced a US$100-million plan, backed by billionaire ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, to launch two satellites that will be able to “pinpoint large emissions of greenhouse gases from individual sources like power plants and oil refineries from space,” Reuters reports. The announcement came roughly four years after then-California governor Jerry Brown vowed his state would “launch its own damn satellites” if then-White House occupant Donald Trump insisted on cutting funds for NASA climate research.

“The partnership between the state, the U.S. space agency, satellite company Planet, and four other institutions will launch its first two satellites in 2023,” Reuters reports. “The coalition is operating under a non-profit organization called Carbon Mapper that is funded by philanthropic groups including Bloomberg’s.” 

The resulting data will be shared publicly, “but companies that own and operate emitting infrastructure can subscribe to get access to the data sooner, allowing them to address leaks quickly,” the news agency adds.

“It will be transformational,” Carbon Mapper CEO Riley Duren told Reuters. “There is significant interest in using this type of technology…to support the leak detection and repair enterprise.”

“This decade represents an all-hands-on-deck moment for humanity to make critical progress in addressing climate change,” he added. “Our mission is to help fill gaps in the emerging global ecosystem of methane and CO2 monitoring systems by delivering data that’s timely, actionable, and accessible for science-based decision-making.”