Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26

More than 100 countries yesterday in Glasgow pledged to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030. The agreement, however, is not binding on the parties signing it – nor was it signed by China – the world’s largest emitter of methane, India or Russia.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, scolded his Chinese counterpart for not attending the summit, saying that Xi Jinping’s absence was a “big mistake”.

After the grand opening and the first two days during which the headline-making agreements were signed, the world’s leaders have gone home. Their environment ministers and officials remain in Glasgow for the next two weeks to hammer out the detail.

Yesterday’s global methane pledge announced by the EU and US aims to cut anthropogenic emissions of this greenhouse gas which is responsible for more warming than any other except for carbon dioxide. Methane is some 84 times more potent per mass unit as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although it does breaks down in the atmosphere within 12 years, rather than the hundreds of years that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for. The 30% cuts envisioned by 2030 are measured against 2020 levels. The US and Canada have said that they would introduce new regulations to cut the amount of methane emitted by their oil and gas industries; Russia’s gas industry with its long pipelines and under-invested gas fields, leaks a lot of methane into the atmosphere. Other sources of methane include agriculture, particularly of cattle. In total more than 300m tonnes of methane are currently emitted as a result of human activities each year.

This compares to 43 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (so there’s around 143 times less methane emitted, but it is 84 times more potent in its greenhouse effect). Along with carbon dioxide, the reduction of methane emissions is now recognised as a crucial part of the fight against climate change. Cutting global methane emissions is expected have a rapid effect on temperatures.

The US has rejoined the High Ambition Coalition (HAC), which has the aim of achieving the 1.5C goal at the UN climate talks. The Trump administration had left the HAC, an informal group of over 60 countries within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, committed to advancing more ambitious climate targets. The HAC succeeded in securing the Paris Agreement's most ambitious provisions, including the five-year ratchet-up cycles of nationally-determined contributions, to pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. President Trump announced that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017, but that only happened formally on 4 November 2020 – a day after the presidential elections.

Also announced yesterday was the Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda, a plan to coordinate the introduction of clean technologies – including clean electricity and electric vehicles – to drive down their cost faster. This was agreed by world leaders, including the UK, US, India, China and Australia. The aim is to bring forward the tipping point at which green technologies become cheaper to produce than conventional fossil-fuelled ones, as economies of scale take effect. The LED lightbulb is a good example of this process. By bringing forward that tipping point, market forces will accelerate cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, bringing about a net-zero economy sooner than would otherwise happen. The first five breakthrough sectors will be clean electricity, electric vehicles, green steel, hydrogen and sustainable farming. The aim is to make these affordable and available to all nations by 2030, while at the same time creating 20 million new jobs globally.

Another agreement reached yesterday at COP26 covers African countries, which between them have pledged to spend $6 billion – from their own tax revenues – on adapting to climate impacts. They have called on the rich world to provide a further $12.5 billion over the next five years to help them to meet their goals. And the US, EU and the UK committed $8.5 billion to support South Africa – the world’s 12th-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – in its journey to transition away from coal.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment