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U.S., European Union Pledge 30% Methane Cut by 2030

The United States and the European Union issued a joint promise Friday to reduce their emissions of climate-busting methane by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030, with the aim of finalizing the agreement during this year’s United Nations climate conference and getting other countries to sign on.

If all countries took part, the pledge would reduce average global warming by 0.2°C in the 2040s, The Guardian reports. With climate negotiations at COP 26 in Glasgow at serious risk of failure, “the EU and [U.S. President] Joe Biden deserve real credit,” said Paul Bledsoe, a Bill Clinton-era climate advisor now working at the Progressive Policy Institute. “This is the first concrete step on the possible road to success at COP 26.”

In 2016, then-U.S. president Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto agreed to a 40 to 45% methane cut by 2025. But that was before Donald Trump took temporary control of the White House and launched a sweeping attack on fossil fuel regulation and emission controls in the U.S., including Obama-era methane rules.

Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than CO2, but packs 84 times the warming impact over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control. Last month, an alarming science assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urged reductions in runaway methane emissions from shale gas, oil extraction, and animal farming as the quickest approach—and an essential step—to get climate change under control. 

“Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040,” Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a lead IPCC reviewer, said at the time. “We need to see at COP 26 a recognition of this problem, that we need to do something on this.”

But even so, methane concentrations rose from 1,874.6 to 1,892.3 parts per billion between December 2019 and December 2020, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in April—the largest annual increase in the 37 years the agency has been collecting data.

In May, a Global Methane Assessment released by the Climate and Clear Coalition and the UN Environment Programme called for a 45% methane reduction this decade, aimed at avoiding nearly 0.3°C of additional global warming by 2045, keeping a relatively climate-safe future within reach, and preventing 260,000 premature deaths per year.

That target wasn’t on the table last week. But Zaelke still credited Biden and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry with shifting the focus from 2050 emission targets to making the 2020s a decade of climate action.

“Cutting methane is our best and probably last hope to keep the planet safe,” he told The Guardian. “The key is to use the global methane pledge as a beachhead for an all-out assault to cut this super climate pollutant as fast as possible.”

In a release, the World Resources Institute listed agriculture as the source of 40% of human-caused methane emissions, followed by fossil fuels at 35% and waste at 20%.

“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 public health benefits,” said WRI Vice President, Climate & Economics Helen Mountford. And “agriculture has a huge role to play in helping countries meet this pledge—like reducing food loss and waste, changing what we feed cows, and using more low-emission varieties of rice.”

But last month, Politico Morning Energy said farm state Democrats in the United States and the Biden White House were stepping into a “political tinderbox” over methane reductions.

“The Biden administration and liberal Democrats want to go after methane emissions, but doing so could open a political tinderbox with [Republican] lawmakers and Democratic farm-state colleagues, agriculture, and the [fossil] energy industry,” the newsletter stated, in a news brief that identified smaller oil and gas operators as the other likely obstacle to the plan.

In a deep dive last week, DeSmog had the American Petroleum Institute and other fossil lobby groups launching an “all-out pressure campaign” to defeat a per-tonne fee on methane emissions that some Democrats hope to include in their US$3.5-trillion climate and budget bill.

“In the same month as the industry made headlines for supporting carbon pricing, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced a bill in March 2021, the Methane Emissions Reduction Act of 2021, which would impose an $1,800-per-ton fee on methane emissions beginning in 2023, and rise by 2% per year above inflation” after that, writes DeSmog’s Nick Cunningham. “That bill, or some version of it, now has a chance of getting folded into the budget package that Congressional Democrats are currently writing.”

But not if the fossil lobby has anything to say about it.

“Faced with the reality of a price being put on methane, the oil industry has begun mobilizing to attack the idea, claiming that regulation is preferred instead,” DeSmog writes. “The about-face is consistent with longstanding efforts by the fossil fuel industry to oppose environmental regulations and derail any action on climate change.”

Get DeSmog’s detailed analysis of the U.S. methane bill here, WRI’s backgrounder on how methane emissions contribute to climate change here.