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Biden asks nations to join US, EU in pledge to cut global methane emissions

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a Sept. 17 conference call on climate change with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Source: Al Drago/Getty Editorial via Getty Images

President Joe Biden said the U.S. is working with the European Union on a pledge to cut global emissions of methane by at least 30% below 2020 levels by the end of the decade, and he urged other world leaders to sign the pact.

"This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit, like improving public health and agricultural output," Biden said.

The Sept. 17 announcement came as world leaders joined Biden for a virtual meeting of the U.S.-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate ahead of a United Nations conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. The virtual forum followed a summit in April where some of the world's biggest emitters pledged to ramp up their nonbinding nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, that were established as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

"We believe the collective goal is ambitious but realistic," Biden said.

Much of the summit was closed to the public, and senior administration officials have said not to expect announcements of further commitments from the Sept. 17 event. Biden did not say which other countries have agreed to join the pact, called the "Global Methane Pledge." Attendees of the summit included leaders from Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, the European Commission, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the United Kingdom, as well as the U.N. secretary general, according to the White House.

Specific country-level targets were not announced. But the oil and gas industry could be a key target for policies aimed at cutting methane emissions. The sector is one of the main sources of methane emissions in the U.S., accounting for about 30% of the country's methane emissions as of 2019, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is a significant contributor to climate change along with carbon dioxide. Methane remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter period than carbon dioxide, but the near-term warming effect is much greater. The global warming potential for methane is about 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

Biden pledged to tackle methane emissions as part of his climate policy before taking office, promising to set aggressive emissions limits on new and existing oil and gas operations. The EPA and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are preparing regulations to curb methane emissions.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have also developed a plan that would place a fee on methane emissions as part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.

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Groups that advocate for strong policies to mitigate climate change praised the Global Methane Pledge.

"Institutional investors and major companies — including oil and gas giants — have long supported imminent federal regulation of methane emissions," Billy Gridley, director of investor public policy at the nonprofit investor network Ceres, said in a statement. "This pledge signals a new level of multilateral government leadership and commitment from the United States, the European Union, and other signatories to address a highly potent greenhouse gas that is responsible for increasing global warming to harmful levels."

The Environmental Defense Fund said years of research have shown the technical feasibility of rapid reductions in methane emissions from sectors such as the oil and gas industry.

"Cutting methane pollution is the single fastest, most effective strategy we have to slow the rate of warming," EDF President Fred Krupp said in a Sept. 17 statement. "The benefits will be almost immediate. World leaders behind this pledge are opening up a crucial new opportunity to protect our climate and millions of people whose wellbeing depends on it."

U.S. fossil fuel-related methane emissions drove about 80% of the growth in North America's methane emissions from the early 2000s to 2017, according to a July study led by researchers with the Global Carbon Project.

The American Petroleum Institute said in a statement that reducing methane emissions is a top priority for the oil and gas industry. "We welcome global efforts that build on U.S. oil and natural gas producers' progress in cutting methane emissions intensity while operating under environmental standards that are among the highest in the world," Frank Macchiarola, API's senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said in a statement.

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U.S. LNG exporters face growing concerns from customers about greenhouse gas emissions throughout the natural gas supply chain.

Gas producers have ramped up efforts to monitor and decrease methane emissions, partnering with companies like Equitable Origin Inc. and Project Canary Inc. to certify that their supplies are meet certain standards. Independent drillers like Chesapeake Energy Corp. and EQT Corp., as well as larger integrated producers like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Equinor ASA, have committed to using these frameworks. Utilities have lined up to be early purchasers of certified gas.

S&P Global Platts is developing a framework for a certificate for responsibly sourced gas attributes that can be traded separately from the underlying commodity. The certificate would be based chiefly on methane intensity and would benchmark production against measured emissions of peer output.

EDF, which said "many countries can and should aim even higher" than the goals outlined in the U.S.-EU methane pledge, has expressed concerns about "self certification" programs such as Project Canary's.

"Using a single technology like a fixed ground-based sensor often doesn't capture the full picture," EDF Director of Energy Strategy Andrew Baxter said in a July interview. "You don't acquire all of the data that you need to fully understand the emissions profile of that particular asset."

Ahead of the April summit, the Biden administration announced plans to submit a new NDC at the Glasgow conference that would put the U.S. in line with a targeted climate change limit of 1.5 degrees C. The NDC would require the nation to slash its greenhouse gas emissions 50%-52% by 2030 as measured against 2005 levels.

"We have to bring to Glasgow our highest possible ambitions," Biden said Sept. 17. In an appeal to other countries, he said, "Time is running out."

S&P Global Market Intelligence and S&P Global Platts are owned by S&P Global Inc.