Cop26: Boris Johnson hails deal to cut methane emissions
World leaders agreed a deal yesterday to curb emissions of the planet’s second-most polluting greenhouse gas as Boris Johnson expressed optimism for success at the Glasgow climate change conference.
The prime minister said that two days of talks had given a “sense” of how the world could achieve the cuts needed in greenhouse gases.
Britain, the US, EU, Indonesia, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico, Nigeria, Iraq, Vietnam and Canada all signed. However, China, India and Russia, three of the top five methane emitters, have not and neither has Australia.
In a further setback to the meeting’s aim of limiting the rise in global temperatures to within reach of 1.5C, China’s chief climate negotiator questioned the objective.
“If we only focus on 1.5, we are destroying consensus and many countries would demand a reopening of the [Paris] negotiations,” Xie Zhenhua said. He also suggested that China was unlikely to go further than its existing pledge to peak its carbon emissions by 2030. “We have already been making our biggest possible effort,” Xie said.
However, Johnson, who along with other world leaders left Glasgow last night, struck a more optimistic tone, suggesting that China could be persuaded to go further and bring forward the date that its carbon emissions would peak. “I think what you’re starting to see here at Cop26 in Glasgow is a sense of how actually you can deliver those cuts in CO2, but there is a long way to go,” he said.
Johnson added that he had also not given up hope that developed countries would meet the target of reaching $100 billion-worth of climate finance to help poorer countries to decarbonise. He said that the “eyes of the world” were on the negotiators, who will spend the next ten days trying to hammer out a comprehensive agreement.
President Biden said that the leaders in Glasgow had demonstrated a “great example of the kind of ambition you need” to confront global warming. “I can’t think of any two days where more has been accomplished on climate than these two days,” he said.
However, he attacked President Xi of China for not attending the Glasgow climate and G20 summits. “It’s been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China not showing up. The rest of the world looked at China and said ‘what value are they providing?’ ”
The Global Methane Pledge was the second substantial deal agreed at Cop26 after the declaration to end deforestation by 2030, and covers half of the top 30 big methane emitters.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that can warm the atmosphere 80 times as fast as carbon dioxide but which breaks down much more quickly. About 0.5C of the 1.1C rise in the global average temperature since the industrial revolution has been caused by methane emissions.
If the pledge is fully implemented it could limit global warming by about 0.2C by 2050, helping to achieve the main Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to below 2C. Methane also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, a dangerous air pollutant that also suppresses crop growth.
The UN has calculated that cutting methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 would prevent 255,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally per year. Under the pledge, the signatories commit to a collective reduction in all human- caused sources of methane by 30 per cent on 2020 levels by 2030.
The largest source of manmade methane emissions is farming, including emissions from livestock. The production of oil, gas and coal is also a significant source, with methane leaking from wells, mines and pipelines.
The focus of the conference today will be finance. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will announce that all listed companies in Britain must produce binding plans to reduce carbon emissions or face fines from regulators
Methane is 85 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat over 20 years, but while CO2 breaks down after centuries in the atmosphere, it has a lifespan of about a decade.
According to a report by the UN and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, agriculture accounts for 40 per cent of human-caused methane emissions, but fossil fuel extraction and waste make up 35 per cent and 20 per cent. With the world’s population expected to rise to ten billion by 2050, cutting emissions from agriculture will be difficult. The greatest potential is in fixing leaks from the energy sector.
Another UN report said that rapidly reducing methane emissions was one of the easiest ways to combat climate change, and that 180 million tonnes a year could be cut by controlling leaks in gas plants, using more digestible animal feed, and not sending food waste to landfills. A 45 per cent cut would reduce global warming by 0.3C by 2045, saving 255,000 premature deaths, 73 billion hours of labour lost to heat, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally.