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Major economies pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30%

Eight countries plus the EU are supporters of the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas by 30% by the end of this decade, said officials in Washington and Brussels over the weekend. More than one-third of greenhouse gas emissions by U.S. agriculture are methane.

“Rapidly reducing methane emissions … is regarded as the single-most effective strategy to reduce global warming in the near term and keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. within reach,” said the EU-U.S. statement. The gas accounts for half of rise in global average temperature since industrialization began.

The pledge will be launched at the UN climate summit in early November in Scotland. President Biden and EU president Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the initiative during an online Major Economies Forum.

“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,” said Biden. “We believe the collective goal is both ambitious but realistic. And we urge you to join us in announcing this pledge at COP26 [the climate summit].”

Agriculture accounts for 10% of U.S. greenhouse gases. Methane, associated with livestock production, comprises 36% of greenhouse gases by agriculture, says the USDA. Nitrous oxide, from sources such as tillage and fertilizers, accounted for a bit more than half of agricultural emissions in 2018. Carbon dioxide was 12%.

“To achieve this goal [30% reduction of methane], the administration will need the voluntary participation, scientific research, and practical knowledge of U.S. cattle producers,” said the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The NCBA also said a commonly used method for calculating greenhouse gas emissions “has come under attack within the scientific community for failing to accurately account for the impact of short-lived emissions like methane.”

Methane breaks down relatively quickly, in a decade or so, in the atmosphere but it traps far more heat than carbon dioxide — one estimate says 80 times more. The short lifespan of methane makes it an attractive vehicle for achieving speedy results. Major sources of methane emissions are oil and gas production, coal, agriculture, and landfills.

The Biden administration is pursuing reductions in emissions from landfills and from oil and gas. The USDA “is working to significantly expand the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices that will reduce methane emissions from key agriculture sources by incentivizing the deployment of improved manure management systems, anaerobic digesters, new livestock feeds, composting and other practices,” said the EU-U.S. statement. The overall U.S. goal is to cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030.

The EU said it has taken steps for nearly three decades to reduce methane emissions.

Supporters of the methane pledge were the EU, the United States, Britain, Italy, Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia, Iraq, and Ghana.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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