To continue reading

Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


The World Finally Agrees to Cut Emissions the Easy Way

Now can we talk about the hard stuff?

Methane cuts.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Today is Methane Day at COP28 in Dubai, and there has been a slew of new commitments to wrangle the highly potent, short-lived greenhouse gas:

The Biden administration finalized the strongest-ever federal regulations in the U.S. covering the methane that leaks from existing oil and gas wells, plus tightened rules for new wells. The Environmental Protection Agency expects to achieve a nearly 80% reduction in emissions compared to a world without the rules.

Canada is also expected to announce new methane regulations.

Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan — home to some of the biggest methane leaks from oil and gas operations in recent years — joined a global pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% this decade. If the pledge is successful, it could eliminate more than 0.2 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050.

Nearly 50 oil and gas companies signed onto a “decarbonization charter,” committing to reduce the ratio of methane released to fuels produced to 0.2% by 2030, and to capture the gas instead of flaring it. For reference, the current methane intensity of U.S. oil and gas production is about 2.5%.

A new partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies, the United Nations Environment Program, the Environmental Defense Fund, the International Energy Agency, and RMI will use satellite data and analysis of leaks to hold companies and governments — in particular the oil and gas charter members — to their pledges.

All of this follows a new methane deal from the European Union to reduce methane leaks at home and, by 2030, require companies importing oil and gas to the EU to meet a standard for emissions associated with their product.

➢ China also recently released a methane action plan, and agreed for the first time to include non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane in its emissions targets. The country is a co-host of the Summit on Methane and Other Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases at COP28 today.

This is not the first time many of these groups have pledged to address methane, which leaks into the atmosphere from oil and gas infrastructure, coal mines, landfills, and farms. But taken together, today’s actions bring more ambition, transparency, and accountability to the task.

During a press briefing on Friday morning, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry told reporters that reducing methane emissions is the “easiest, quickest, cheapest, simplest” way to fight climate change. There’s two reasons for that. First, since methane begins breaking down in the atmosphere after about a decade (unlike CO2, which can last hundreds of years), cutting methane emissions will reduce warming significantly in the near-term. Second, experts say that reducing leaks from oil and gas infrastructure is both technologically doable and cost-effective. “It’s not complicated technology,” Kerry said. “It’s mostly plumbing.”

But for an issue that’s so easy to address, the scourge on methane has sucked up a lot of oxygen in the climate conversation over the past five years, especially in the U.S. Writing about “the quickest way to slow warming” has become a tired cliché for climate journalists, me included. Ever since scientists at the Environmental Defense Fund reported that methane emissions from oil and gas production were being severely undercounted in 2018, attention to methane by environmental groups, researchers, the U.S. government, and even the oil and gas industry has steadily risen. But so have methane emissions, according to some estimates.

Get one great climate story in your inbox every day:

* indicates required

  • The Obama administration first tried to regulate emissions from existing wells and tighten standards for new wells in 2016. Then the industry sued. Trump rolled back the rules. The Biden administration tried again in 2021, proposing new rules during COP26 in Glasgow and spearheading the Global Methane Pledge. One year later, during COP27, the Biden administration issued yet another proposal to “update, strengthen, and expand on” the original. Now that the rules are finalized, some won’t even go into effect for another two years so that states have time to develop plans to adhere to the regulations on existing wells.

    It does look like this moment is different — that this could be a real turning point. Engineers have made great advances in methane detection technology. Satellites, drones, and handheld detectors have turned up “super-emitters,” astoundingly large leaks from oil and gas operations all over the world that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and unaddressed.

    During the Friday morning press briefing, billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, who is putting $40 million toward the new watchdog effort to hold companies accountable, promised this would not be “just another announcement.” He pointed to his Beyond Coal campaign, which successfully shut down 70% of U.S. coal plants over the past five years. Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said there will finally be transparency. “Without transparency, all we have is pledges,” she said.

    So the world may finally be moving in concert to address methane, this lowest hanging fruit, this bare minimum, this fastest way to slow warming. Well, la-di-da. Now that there’s some consensus on methane, will there be more room to talk about the harder stuff? Like, the root cause of climate change? Like, ending the use of oil and gas, and — god help us — coal?

    The U.S. committed today to finally phasing out the dirtiest fossil fuel, but other countries — notably India — are still digging in their heels. Andersen mentioned a report the UNEP released in November, which found that the majority of oil and gas producers plan to increase their production between now and 2030, and some until 2050.

    “The addiction to fossil fuels still has its claws deep in many nations,” the report says. “Governments are planning to produce, and the world is planning to consume, over double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is consistent with the pathway to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. These plans throw the global energy transition into question. They throw humanity’s future into question.”

    Yes, cutting methane emissions from oil and gas operations will stave off worse climate impacts, buying the world some time as it tackles the much harder challenge of phasing out fossil fuels. But it also gives fossil fuel companies a new defensive weapon as we enter this next stage of climate action. They will be able to say their products are cleaner — perhaps even that we should thank them for helping the world avoid 0.2 degrees C of warming while their plans “throw humanity’s future into question.” To make progress beyond methane, we’ll need to get from pledges to action a lot more quickly.

    This story has been updated.

    Read more about COP28:

    What I Misunderstood About COP28


    Emily Pontecorvo

    Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal. Read More

    Read More

    To continue reading

    Create a free account or sign in to unlock more free articles.

    By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


    Why Coal’s Slowdown Is Slowing Down

    Rising electricity demand puts reliability back on the table.

    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. In 2005, by far the predominant source of U.S. electricity, making up some 2.2 million gigawatt-hours of the country’s 4.3 million GWh total energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2022, by contrast, coal generation was down to 900,000 GWh out of 4.5 million GWh generated. As a result, “U.S. emissions are 15.8% lower than 2005 levels, while power emissions are 40% lower than 2005 levels,” according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

    But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years, according to EIA figures. Over the past decade, coal retirements have averaged about 10 GW a year, with actual retirements often outpacing forecasts.

    Keep reading...Show less

    Ron DeSantis' Beef With Lab-Grown Meat

    What Florida Republicans have against cultivated meat

    Ron DeSantis and a very large hamburger.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    In the Free State of Florida, Republicans have banned woke public investments, woke racial education, and woke books in school libraries. Now they’re trying to ban woke meat.

    Legislation that would criminalize the sale of cultivated meat grown from animal cells is wending its way through the state House and Senate, even though cultivated meat is not currently for sale anywhere in Florida — or, for that matter, anywhere else. Governor Ron DeSantis, eager to start owning libs again after his fiasco of a presidential campaign, has said he’s on board with banning the new technology, even though the federal government has already signed off on meat grown in fermenters rather than feedlots as safe.

    Keep reading...Show less

    AM Briefing: SCOTUS Weighs Smog Rules

    On being a good neighbor, Rivian’s results, and China’s emissions

    Will SCOTUS Block a Major Air Pollution Rule?
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Heavy rain caused extreme flooding outside Rio de Janeiro • Japan is enduring record-breaking warm winter weather • It’ll be 72 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny at Peoria Stadium in Arizona for the MLB’s first spring training game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.


    1. Supreme Court weighs challenge to EPA pollution rule

    The Supreme Court this week has been hearing arguments in what CNN called “the most significant environmental dispute at the high court this year,” and things aren’t looking good for the Environmental Protection Agency. Several states and energy companies want to block the EPA’s “good neighbor” plan, which seeks to impose strict emissions limits on industrial activities in 23 states in an effort to prevent pollution from drifting across state lines and forming dangerous smog. Challengers say the regulation is overreaching and want its implementation delayed. Yesterday the court’s conservative majority appeared skeptical of the EPA’s authority, citing the fact that lower court decisions have paused the regulation in 12 states.

    Environmental groups worry a ruling against the EPA here could set a dangerous precedent. “The Supreme Court — if it were to block this rule — would effectively be saying to industry, ‘Look, any time you face costs from a regulation, come on up and take a shot. We might block that rule for you,’” Sam Sankar, senior vice president for programs at Earthjustice, told E&E News.

    Keep reading...Show less
    HMN Banner
    Get today’s top climate story delivered right to your inbox.

    Sign up for our free Heatmap Daily newsletter.