Dozens of countries on Tuesday joined the U.S. and European Union pledges to cut emissions of methane – the most potent greenhouse gas – by 30% this decade, as part of the most important climate commitment to date at COP26.
The initiative, which experts say could have a powerful short-term impact on global warming, follows an announcement earlier Tuesday in which more than 100 countries agreed to end deforestation by 2030.
“One of the most important things we can do by 2030, to keep 1.5 ° C within reach, is to reduce our methane emissions as soon as possible,” said US President Joe Biden, referring to the central objective of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
He called the pledge, which has so far been signed by more than 80 countries, a “revolutionary pledge” that covers countries responsible for around half of global methane emissions.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said reducing methane “will immediately slow climate change”.
“We cannot wait until 2050. We have to cut emissions quickly and methane is one of the gases we can reduce the fastest,” she said.
Heads of state and government are gathered in Glasgow for a two-day high-level summit which, the British host, hopes to launch ambitious climate action during the two weeks of COP26.
Organizers say shuttle diplomacy and the careful negotiations that will ensue will be crucial for the continued viability of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and its goal of limiting the rise in temperatures to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.
While the first day of the summit passed with a lot of rhetoric but only lukewarm climate promises, Tuesday’s twin announcements were widely welcomed by activists.
Stronger than CO2
Decades of climate commitments have been anchored in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Yet methane (CH4) is more than 80 times more powerful than CO2, and its sources, such as surface coal mines and livestock, have received relatively little attention so far.
The United Nations said last month that global methane emissions could be reduced by 20% at little or no cost using existing practices or technologies.
A report released earlier this year showed that “available targeted methane measures” could reduce CH4 levels by 45% by 2030.
That would reduce forecasted warming by 0.3 ° C, prevent a quarter of a million deaths from air pollution and increase global crop yields by 26 million tonnes, the United Nations Environment Program said.
“Reducing methane emissions is key to preventing global warming from exceeding 1.5 ° C,” said Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute.
“Strong and rapid action to reduce methane emissions offers a range of benefits, from limiting short-term warming and reducing air pollution to improving food security and public health. “
Earlier on Tuesday, countries pledged multibillion dollars to end deforestation by 2030.
But the pledge was met with skepticism by environmental groups, and although details are scarce, it seemed to largely resemble a similar pledge made by more than 200 countries and organizations in 2014.
The UK government said the plan to mobilize around $ 20 billion in public and private funding has been endorsed by more than 100 leaders representing more than 85 percent of the Earth’s forests, including the Amazon rainforest.
The summit’s pact to “stop and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030” includes promises to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples and to recognize “their role as stewards of the forest”.
While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the commitment “unprecedented,” a United Nations climate rally in New York in 2014 issued a similar declaration to end deforestation by 2030.
An assessment carried out earlier this year found that seven years after the pact, virtually no government was on track to meet its responsibilities.
Trees continue to be felled on an industrial scale, especially in the Amazon under the far-right government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Humans have already cut down half of the Earth’s forests, a practice doubly damaging to the climate when CO2-sucking trees are replaced by cattle or monocultures.
The white list for COP26 remains intimidating, with pressure on leaders to pledge to accelerate decarbonization and deliver billions to countries already facing the fallout from climate change.
Meanwhile, chaotic scenes continued around the COP26 venue on Tuesday, with attendees lining up around the block awaiting security checks.
In the early afternoon, UN organizers sent an alert SMS asking people to stay away from the place “to ensure compliance with Covid-19 measures”.
Accessibility issues in the locked city center were highlighted as the Israeli energy minister, who uses a wheelchair, was unable to enter the site on Monday.