Biden touts international agreement to cut methane emissions

·Senior Editor
·4 min read

GLASGOW, Scotland — President Biden lauded an agreement reached by more than 90 countries to cut methane emissions by 30 percent over the next decade.

"One of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade is to keep 1.5 degrees [Celsius of temperature rise] in reach and reduce our methane emissions as quickly as possible," Biden said during his second day at the U.N. Climate Change Conference. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that Biden noted is behind "about half of the warming we're experiencing today." Keenly aware that world leaders gathered at the conference are looking to the U.S. to lead on climate change with not just words but actions, the president announced two new initiatives to reduce U.S. methane emissions.

"We're proposing two new rules: one through our Environmental Protection Agency that's going to reduce methane losses from new and existing oil and gas pipelines, and one through the Department of Transportation to reduce wasteful and hazardous leaks in natural gas pipelines."

Roughly 30 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. are attributable to the oil and gas industry, including production, pipelines and use in commercial and residential buildings. 

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency will implement a rule regulating leak detection and repair for methane leaks, a policy that in part restores an Obama-era standard repealed by former President Donald Trump, but that would also extend implementation to existing oil and gas operations. A senior administration official said the new rule would cover roughly 75 percent of all methane emissions.

In September, Biden announced that the U.S. and the European Union had both pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by the end of the decade.

"This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit like improving public health and agricultural output," he said at the time. "We're mobilizing support to help developing countries that join and pledge to do something significant."

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Evan Vucci/ Pool via REUTERS
President Biden speaks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference on Monday. (Evan Vucci/Pool via Reuters)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. methane emissions have fallen over the past two decades, but because methane is 80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, finding ways to reduce emissions could prove pivotal in keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C. Average global temperatures have already risen 1.2°C since before the Industrial Revolution.

Methane emissions have multiple sources, including natural gas and oil drilling operations, landfills, abandoned coal mines and agriculture, and the Biden administration continues to press other nations to pledge to cap emissions where possible.

According to a recent report by the U.N. Environment Program, targeting methane emissions is a sound strategy for attacking climate change.

"Methane has accounted for roughly 30 percent of global warming since pre-industrial times and is proliferating faster than at any other time since record keeping began in the 1980s," the UNEP said on its website.

While 70 countries had joined the U.S. at the start of the conference to take measures to address methane emissions, a senior administration official revealed that number had swelled to more than 90 nations at the end of the first day of meetings in Glasgow.

In Scotland, the president has repeated his view that transitioning from a fossil fuel economy to renewable sources of energy will produce jobs in the U.S. and in other countries. Regarding methane, some of those jobs could come, for instance, in detecting leaks in existing pipelines and replacing them with new infrastructure. Plugging old oil wells and coal mines is also part of the president's plan.

"It's going to boost our economies, saving companies money reducing methane leaks and capturing methane and turning it into new revenue streams as well as create good-paying union jobs for our workers," Biden said Tuesday. 

The president said the U.S. was launching a new initiative to reduce methane emissions on American farms and ranches.

"It's going to make a huge difference," Biden added.

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades. Step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

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