US and EU Pledge to Slash Methane Emissions

Data shows that a 30% reduction in methane emissions is not ambitious enough and falls short of what is needed to avoid a climate meltdown.

A Methane Flare Burns Against A Twilight Sky
Carl Young / EyeEm / Getty Images

In a bid to tackle climate change, the U.S. and the European Union pledged to reduce methane emissions by a third over the next decade and are urging other countries to follow suit.

Deservedly, carbon dioxide gets a lot of bad publicity because it is the most abundant man-made greenhouse gas but methane, the main component of natural gas, is responsible for about a third of the 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in global average temperature the world has suffered since the start of the industrial revolution. 

Since then, concentrations of methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere, have more than doubled.

The world urgently needs to drastically reduce methane emissions so that the worst effects of climate change—including devastating wildfires, more powerful hurricanes, and severe droughts—don’t become the new normal. 

However, atmospheric concentrations of methane are rising at an alarming rate.

“Rapidly reducing methane emissions is complementary to action on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and is regarded as the single most effective strategy to reduce global warming in the near term and keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach,” the White House said in a statement announcing the so-called “Global Methane Pledge.”

The Biden administration said the U.S. and the EU are already working on reducing the amount of methane that emanates from oil and gas facilities, coal mines, livestock, and landfills—the leading sources of methane emissions.

Seven other countries (the United Kingdom, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Iraq, Indonesia, and Ghana) have joined the initiative and the group is hoping that more will follow suit.

The pledge is a step in the right direction but falls short of what is needed. For starters, many of the world’s top methane emitters (including China, Brazil, India, Iran, and Pakistan) have not signed in, and studies from major organizations show that the target is not ambitious enough.

Low Target

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said the 30% target should be the “floor, not the ceiling.” An EDF report published in April argued the world has the capacity to slash emissions by as much as 50% over the same time frame, which would slow down global warming by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.25 degrees Celsius) by 2050 and as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century. That’s in line with the findings of a United Nations report issued in May.

“One degree would make all the difference in a world grappling to meet the Paris goals. More important, it would reduce the climate risk for millions of people,” EDF Senior Vice President of Energy, Mark Brownstein, said last week.

The fossil fuel sector alone is responsible for about a quarter of total methane emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), known fixes and stronger regulations could pave the way for a 75% reduction in methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry.

The IEA says a 75% cut is not only “technically possible” but that much of this reduction can be achieved “at no net cost.” In January, the organization released a roadmap outlining the steps that need to be taken to slash methane emissions, noting that fossil fuel companies would actually profit from capturing methane because it can be sold to produce electricity.

The EDF estimates that the methane that leaks from U.S. fossil fuel operations is worth $2 billion a year.

Applying a number of “straightforward” fixes should be enough to reduce total methane emissions by 25%, putting the world well on track to reach the 30% target that the White House just announced, the organization says.

“That tells us that the pledge is an eminently feasible goal. It also suggests we could achieve even more if ambitions were greater. Accordingly, we at EDF will continue to push both regulators and operators to aim higher,” Brownstein wrote.

View Article Sources
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  2. "Importance of Methane." United States Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. "Trends in Atmospheric Methane." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  4. "Study: Cutting Methane Emissions Quickly Could Slow Climate Warming Rate 30%." Environmental Defense Fund, 2021.

  5. "Driving Down Methane Leaks from the Oil and Gas Industry." International Energy Agency, 2021.

  6. "Major Studies Revel 60% More Methane Emissions." Environmental Defense Fund.