US President Joe Biden is seeking buy-in for a new international pledge to slash global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, for the second time convening world leaders Sept. 17 to hash out climate action plans to be unveiled at an upcoming UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the global warming potential relative to carbon dioxide measured over a 20-year period. Roughly a quarter of the warming occurring now is driven by methane, and the oil and gas sector is the single largest source of those emissions in the US.
Biden said the US was working with the EU to garner support for the global methane pledge, which he contended would not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming but also have "side benefits," such as improving public health and boosting agricultural output.
The new pledge was announced as Biden hosted a virtual meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) to galvanize efforts to contain temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held Oct. 31 through Nov. 12.
Unlike the similarly purposed Leaders Summit on Climate convened in April, the MEF was not open to the public so leaders could discuss candidly their progress toward cementing 2030 emissions targets that put major economies on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
The pledge, a first-ever global political commitment on methane, was viewed by environmental groups as a good first step though some said it was not enough to adequately tackle the climate crisis. Industry groups mostly reserved judgement until details were available on the US' domestic plans and pointed to voluntary commitments on methane emissions reductions already made by oil and gas companies.
Biden offered that the US has already taken steps toward the methane reduction goal, launching initiatives to plug methane leaks and cap abandoned oil and gas wells. Further, the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon issue a new standard for oil and gas methane emissions, going beyond what the Obama administration issued in 2016.
"We're mobilizing support to help developing countries that join and pledge to do something significant ... and seize this vital opportunity," Biden said. "We believe the collective goal is both ambitious but realistic. And we urge you to join us in announcing this pledge at COP26."
Sarah Smith, a program director at Clean Air Task Force, urged countries taking the pledge "to move from verbal ambition to decisive action, and said CATF would "work with national governments, NGOs and industry leaders to put robust implementation plans in place to quickly cut methane pollution."
"But it will take a unified global commitment to move the needle, and we now need all world leaders to step up and act," she said in an email.
A Global Methane Assessment released by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the UN Environment Programme found that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require a 40%-45% cut in methane emissions from a business-as-usual baseline by 2030.
According to CATF, when aligning the differing baselines, the methane pledge would achieve at least a 35% reduction below the business-as-usual baseline.
The Sierra Club has said that up to 65% of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector could be eliminated by 2025 at low cost through existing technology. As such, it has urged the EPA to adopt this stringent a standard in its forthcoming methane rule.
"Global targets are a good first step, but this is not enough: the real solution to the climate crisis is stopping the expansion of the oil and gas industry and swiftly transitioning to clean energy that is accessible to all," Kelly Sheehan Martin, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club, added in a statement.
The Environmental Defense Fund pointed to methane pollution cuts as "the single fastest, most effective strategy" for slowing the rate of global warming, with almost immediate benefits.
"A 30% reduction in methane pollution is the entry point for this critical conversation," EDF President Fred Krupp said in a statement. "Many countries can and should aim even higher."
EDF Vice President Matt Watson told S&P Global Platts that EPA's methane rule for the oil and gas sector would "have to be the centerpiece of how the US meets its commitment under the pledge."
He added that the 30% global reduction target was doable, but achieving it would look different in each country, depending on its economic activity.
While the US seems poised to focus on oil and gas methane emissions, China, for instance, may focus on methane from its coal mines while another country may home in on reductions in the agricultural space, Watson said.
While the pledge sets a broad goal, gas industry groups are watching closely to see what details will emerge in the regulation planned by EPA.
Charile Riedl, executive director of the Center for LNG, said the best way to achieve emissions reductions is to work with industry to build upon efforts already underway to reduce emissions. The US LNG sector already is working to respond to global markets and buyers that have been demanding lower methane emissions, he said, adding the demand for natural gas continues.
After opposing federal methane regulation in prior years, some industry groups have more recently lent support for cost-effective regulation in general terms.
The American Petroleum Institute welcomed "global efforts that build on US oil and natural gas producers' progress in cutting methane emissions.