With the addition of Canada, France, Germany and others, nations backing the pledge now represent about 30% of global methane emissions and 60% of the global economy.
“Rapidly reducing global methane emissions is the single fastest strategy we have to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said after a virtual ministerial meeting on the pact.
Countries in the agreement are pledging to support a collective goal of cutting methane emissions at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade — with reductions coming from the oil industry, agriculture and waste. Nine of the top 20 methane-emitting countries worldwide are now participating in the pledge, the U.S. State Department said.
Momentum is growing for international climate agreements ahead of global talks beginning Oct. 31 in Glasgow, Scotland. The EU, U.S. and seven other countries — including the U.K., Italy and Mexico — had already signed on to the global methane pledge, set to be formally announced at the summit. Meeting the pact’s methane emissions reduction target could shave at least 0.2 degrees Celsius off global warming by mid century.
Supporters say action is essential to restrain short term warming and keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a critical tipping point.
“We look forward to welcoming all governments that are ready to tackle methane as the single-fastest strategy that we have to keep a safer, 1.5-centigrade future within reach,” U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said.
Separately, 20 philanthropic groups, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced they would devote more than $200 million to methane-cutting efforts in support of the pledge. (Bloomberg Philanthropies is the philanthropic organization of Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg News.)
“Methane is driving more than a quarter of the warming bearing down on the planet, and policymakers and philanthropy are acting on the science and responding to the urgency of the movement,” Mark Brownstein, senior vice president of energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said separately.
Methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, with more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term. But it is also a relatively cheap and easy problem to fix, with the UN finding that as much as 80% of measures to curb leaks from oil and gas operations can be implemented at no cost.
The new country commitments represent an “undeniable display of momentum to take meaningful, urgent action to combat the climate crisis,” said Sarah Smith, director of the Super Pollutants Program at the Clean Air Task Force, said in a statement. “The pledge’s supporters are putting methane squarely on the COP26 agenda, where it belongs, and every country in the world should follow their lead and join the pledge immediately.”
Technologies to detect methane have advanced in recent years, with cameras making the invisible gas detectable around fossil fuel infrastructure worldwide. Recently, several large clouds were seen by satellites near gas pipelines in Iran. Using an infrared camera, the Clean Air Task Force has documented methane leaking relentlessly across Romania.
Methane also springs from agriculture — including rice farming and livestock — as well as landfills. Under the pledge, companies will work to address their own emissions — for instance with France and Germany likely focusing on agriculture sector while the U.S. clamps down on oil industry leaks.
Timmermans said that before the end of the year, the EU “will follow up with a legislative framework to reduce methane emissions across the whole energy supply chain in the EU and in partner countries which export fossil fuels.”
European policy makers are expected to soon propose laws that will force gas companies to monitor and report methane emissions as well as improve the detection and repair of leaks. An EU spokesperson said that the bloc’s new measures would cover both intentional and unintentional leaks within the energy sector, and the proposals would aim to target similar action internationally.
In the U.S., regulators within weeks are set to propose requirements for more robust inspections and repairs of equipment at oil and gas wells, including hundreds of thousands drilled long ago.
Canada’s environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, said the country was working on new regulations to pare methane emissions from landfills and would be advancing requirements to curb releases from the oil and gas sector by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030.