Over 100 countries have pledged support for an effort to cut emissions of methane — a potent planet-warming greenhouse gas — by 2030.
Led by the US and the European Union, the Global Methane Pledge hopes to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030. According to their estimates, this would reduce warming by at least 0.2°C by 2050.
Over 100 countries representing 70 percent of the global economy have now joined the pledge, including the US, the European Union, Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. However, some of the world's biggest emitters have ducked out of the deal, such as China, India, Iran, and Russia.
Methane is the second most abundant human-made greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, accounting for just under 20 percent of global emissions. Although it does not linger in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide, it’s significantly more potent with 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.
Agriculture — mainly animals burping, farting, and pooping — contributes to around a quarter of the total methane emissions, while another significant portion is emitted by the energy sector, primarily fossil fuels.
It’s not clear how the Global Methane Pledge will be fulfilled by all of the countries yet — a common complaint with climate pledges — although the commitment did include $328 million in funding from global philanthropies to support methane mitigation strategies worldwide. One possible solution could be to fix leaky oil wells, which contribute a significant chunk of human-driven methane emissions.
Reactions to the pledge have been generally positive, although peppered with some doubt. Many argue that the commitment is long overdue and, crucially, many of the worst emitters have not signed up. Furthermore, these pledges are non-binding, meaning there’s no guarantee any country will actually stick to its end of the deal.
“This is a great start – methane is finally in the public eye and getting the attention it needs. However, the biggest emitters, such as Russia or China, have not joined the initiative,” Tim Grabiel, senior lawyer for the Environmental Investigation Agency, said in a statement emailed to IFLScience.
“There is a problem in this pledge in that it does not include any national target goal and is non-binding.”
Greenpeace was more critical of the pledge, arguing the “announcement dodges what’s needed.”
“This initiative needs to be the start and not the finish of the ambition on cutting this potent greenhouse gas… The radical reductions we actually need can’t be achieved by tinkering around the edges,” Juan Pablo Osornio, head of the Greenpeace Delegation at COP26, said in a statement.
“The IPCC says we need to cut all emissions in half by 2030 if we hope to keep global temperature rises within 1.5°C. If we drastically slash fossil fuels we’d cut methane and carbon emissions at the same time, and have a much better chance of meeting that goal,” continued Osornio. “And by not including meat reduction or pledges to change people’s diets in this commitment, governments are giving a free pass to Big Agriculture."