Every political leader who has attended the Glasgow climate summit – and also those who are absent – will put some of their prestige at stake in the next two weeks. But there are two of them who need more than anyone for COP26 to be a success: Joe Biden and Boris Johnson. The first, to clearly demonstrate that the United States is once again a serious actor in the fight against climate change. And the British Prime Minister, to show that the UK of the post-Brexit era has its weight on the international scene. The two intend to capture the headlines of the day this Tuesday, with the first advances of the meeting held in the Scottish city. Together with the European Union, Biden sponsors an international plan to control methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is sometimes relegated to a debate focused mainly on carbon dioxide emissions. And Johnson, who chairs this COP26, was confident of starring alone on the second day of the summit with the announcement of a major international agreement against deforestation: an alliance of governments, investors, companies, environmental organizations and local communities to stop the loss of forests in the world and land degradation by 2030.
Both pacts have no legal relationship and are not part of the official UN negotiations. These types of announcements often remain mere declarations of intent, but at a summit from which no substantial progress is expected in the fight against global warming, these concrete steps can be considered small victories.
The agreement on methane proposes reducing emissions of this gas by 30% in 2030. Around 90 countries are expected to join that pact and it is one of the most concrete points that can come out of COP26. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that has always been in the shadow of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the main precursor to warming, but the international climate fight is also trying to promote concrete commitments against it. According to the latest report by the IPCC – the international panel of experts responsible for laying the scientific foundations on climate change – methane is responsible for 25% of the global temperature increase registered on the planet since the pre-industrial era. And its levels have not stopped increasing in the last two centuries.
In October, the US and the European Union launched an alliance to reduce these emissions by the end of this decade by 30% compared to 2020 levels. The complete list of nations that join will be known this Tuesday. But it will be around 90 countries, according to sources from the Biden Administration to Reuters.
In parallel, the White House plans to announce concrete measures to reduce these emissions within its territory. Barack Obama’s team put in place specific plans to tackle methane, but when Republican Donald Trump came to power he canceled that program, as well as most environmental regulations to limit global warming. The United States, hand in hand with Trump, left the Paris Agreement. And now Biden, who is participating in COP26, is trying to make up lost ground and advance the international climate fight with agreements such as methane.
This commitment, initially backed by 31 countries that announced their intention to join in September, now includes half of the 30 largest methane polluters, according to the US government. Among the new signatories to be announced this Tuesday is Brazil, one of the five largest issuers. However, in principle, neither China, Russia, nor India are present.
The promoters of this pact assure that if the global reduction of 30% of emissions is fulfilled in 2030, it would be possible to limit warming by at least 0.2 degrees by mid-century. This may contribute to achieving the increasingly difficult goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels – the planet is already at 1.1 degrees right now.
A recent International Energy Agency study (IEA) detailed that 40% of global methane emissions come from natural sources, mainly wetlands. The remaining 60% is linked to human activities: almost 25% corresponds to agriculture and livestock, another 21% is due to fossil fuels and almost another 12% to waste. The easiest sector to act in now is fossil fuels. More specifically, experts point to methane leaks that occur in the oil, gas and coal industry.
The program that the United States plans to announce this Tuesday will affect oil and natural gas operations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be in charge of piloting this emission reduction plan, which will entail the control of 300,000 oil and gas wells in the country, according to Reuters.
Regarding the alliance against deforestation, a large part of its success lies in the fact that Brazil, together with countries such as Canada, Russia, Norway, Colombia, Indonesia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo have signed the agreement. More than 100 countries, in total, have joined the pact, and at least 30 financial institutions have expressed their commitment to stop investing in harmful practices for the atmosphere as of 2025. The Russian presidents, Vladimir Putin, and the Brazilian, Jair Bolsonaro, made their first appearance at the summit on Tuesday, albeit through two videos, to offer their support for the agreement. “Our country is home to 20% of the world’s forests, and I am convinced that their conservation is a fundamental aspect in the fight against climate change,” Putin said. “I call on all countries to help us conserve all forests,” has asked Bolsonaro, whose credibility has been questioned by many environmental organizations.
The Johnson communications team, eager to be successful as soon as possible at an international summit that has begun in the shadow of skepticism, has already described the alliance as a “momentous deal.” But experts have greeted the announcement with a mixture of reserve and optimism. Global deforestation is one of the main causes of carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere. Justin Adams, the CEO of Tropical Forest Alliance, has assured: “When we look back, this will be the moment when we will say that the trend began to turn around”
However, the environmental organization Greenpeace has shown many doubts about a pact that, says this NGO, represents “a green light for another decade of forest destruction.” The executive director of Greenpeace Brazil, Carolina Pasquali, explained through a statement: “There is a very good reason why Bolsonaro felt comfortable signing this new agreement. It allows another decade of forest destruction and is non-binding. Meanwhile, the Amazon is already on the brink and cannot survive more years of deforestation ”.
In 2014 the so-called New York declaration was signed, which included the commitment to halve the loss of forests by 2020. But, far from being fulfilled, the rate of deforestation has increased in recent years, says Greenpeace . The NGO recalled that, taking into account Bolsonaro’s record, “there is little chance that he will abide by this totally voluntary agreement and promote policies that will place Brazil on the path of fulfilling the new commitment.”
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