Today: March 02, 2024
Today: March 02, 2024

At COP28 meeting, oil companies pledge to combat methane. Environmentalists call it a "smokescreen"

Share This
At COP28 meeting, oil companies pledge to combat methane. Environmentalists call it a
AP
JON GAMBRELL, PETER PRENGAMAN and SETH BORENSTEIN
December 02, 2023

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Fifty oil companies representing nearly half of global production have pledged to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030, the president of this year's United Nations climate talks said Saturday, a move that environmental groups called a “smokescreen."

Methane emissions are a significant contributor to global warming, so sharply reducing them could help slow temperature rise. If the companies carry out their pledges, it could trim one-tenth of a degree Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) from future warming, a prominent climate scientist calculated and told The Associated Press. That is about how much the Earth is currently warming every five years.

The announcement by Sultan al-Jaber, president of the climate summit known as COP28 and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., comes as he and others have insisted his background would allow him to bring oil companies to the negotiating table. Al-Jaber has maintained that having the industry's buy-in is crucial to drastically slashing the world’s greenhouse emissions by nearly half in seven years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times.

Signing on to the pledge were major national oil companies such as Saudi Aramco, Brazil's Petrobras and Sonangol, from Angola, and multi-nationals like Shell, TotalEnergies and BP.

“The world does not work without energy,” said al-Jaber, speaking in a session on the oil industry. “Yet the world will break down if we do not fix energies we use today, mitigate their emissions at a gigaton scale, and rapidly transition to zero carbon alternatives.”

As if anticipating critiques, al-Jaber added: “Is it enough? Hear me out, please. No, it's not enough. I say with full passion and conviction, I know that much more can be done.”

For months leading up to COP28, there was speculation of action on methane. Not only do methane leaks, along with flaring, which is burning of excess methane, and venting of the gas, all contribute to climate change, but these problems can largely be solved with current technologies and changes to operations. Indeed, oil and gas companies could have taken such measures years ago but largely have not, instead focusing more on expanding production than focusing on the byproduct of it.

In that way, the methane deal represented a potentially significant contribution to combatting climate change that also largely maintained the status quo for the oil and gas industry. Many environmental groups were quick to criticize it.

The pledge is a “smokescreen to hide the reality that we need to phase out oil, gas and coal,” said a letter signed by more than 300 civil society groups.

Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said “the commitments to cut methane are significant, but they address the symptom, not the source.”

But Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said Saturday’s deal “could be the single most impactful day of announcements from any COP in my 30 years at the Environmental Defense Fund.”

Methane has caused about half of the world’s warming since pre-industrial times, al-Jaber said, promoting the deal as significant. However, methane escaping from oil and gas drilling is only about 23% of the world’s methane emissions, with agriculture and waste being bigger culprits, said Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare, the climate scientist who calculated the proposal would trim a tenth of a degree from future warming.

“It would be a significant, but not a fundamental contribution" to making sure average temperatures don't rise beyond 1.5 degrees, Hare said. To keep within that limit, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide about 40% and methane by about 60% by 2030, he said.

Methane can be released at several points along the operation of an oil and gas company, from fracking to when natural gas is produced, transported or stored. Over a shorter period, it’s 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. However, methane stays in the air only a couple decades — unlike thousands of years for carbon dioxide — so reducing methane faster is “low-hanging fruit” because it's easier and changes future warming more, al-Jaber said.

Marcelo Mena, CEO of Global Methane Hub, an alliance of philanthropies and organizations focused on reducing methane emissions, said that having near-zero methane emission commitments should not be seen as delaying a phase out of fossil fuels, as some environmental groups claimed.

“We wouldn’t let oil companies leak into the ocean until phase out, so why would we let them leak out methane to super charge climate change?” said Mena, a former environment minister in Chile.

Still, Mena said that self-reporting didn't go far enough to push oil and gas companies to make changes. Instead, he said putting a price on pollution, or companies finding themselves shut out of markets that require high standards with leaks, would force change.

Stricter regulations are beginning to take hold. On Saturday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule aimed at reducing methane emissions and other harmful air pollutants generated by the oil and gas industry. It targets emissions from existing oil and gas wells nationwide. Previous EPA regulations only focused on new wells. It also regulates smaller wells that will be required to find and plug methane leaks.

The United States will now have “the strongest methane regulations in the world,” White House climate adviser John Podesta told the AP.

Earlier this year, European Union negotiators reached a deal to reduce methane emissions from the energy industry across the 27-member bloc. The agreement bans routine venting and flaring, and mandates strict reporting. By 2027, it will expand those norms to oil and gas exporters outside the bloc.

Saturday's announcement did not address the oil and natural gas being burned off by the end users, so-called Scope 3 emissions, which can be motorists in their cars or plants powering cities. In his speech, al-Jaber said oil and gas companies needed to do more to research solutions to Scope 3 emissions.

The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter is backed by both the United Arab Emirates and neighboring Saudi Arabia, two OPEC heavyweights. Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources, located close to the surface of its desert expanse, makes it one of the world’s least expensive places to produce crude. Both Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC and Aramco, the world’s third-most-valuable company, have signed onto the pledge.

Separately, organizers said more than 100 countries have signed onto a pledge to triple the world’s installed renewable energy capacity by 2030, something pledged in September by leaders of the so-called Group of 20. Their countries emit 80% of all planet-warming gases.

____

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Popular

X, ByteDance, Booking.com could face tough EU rules

By Foo Yun Chee BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Elon Musk's X social media platform, TikTok owner ByteDance and Booking.com may meet EU criteria subjecting them to tough tech rules as so-called gatekeepers, the

Fear and loathing in a Super Tuesday state: Democrats angry at Biden back him anyway to stop Trump

Democratic voters in suburban Minneapolis seem far less interested in sending President Joe Biden a message of dissatisfaction with him than they are in keeping Republican Donald Trump from returning to the White House

How clean is the dirt on Hunter Biden? A key Republican source is charged with lying to the FBI

An FBI informant who was once held up by Republicans as a credible source of information about Hunter Biden now finds himself charged with lying to federal authorities

Norway's hospitalized king gets a pacemaker in Malaysia after falling ill during vacation

The royal house of Norway says King Harald has been implanted with a temporary pacemaker at a hospital in Malaysia’s resort island of Langkawi

No twerking. No drinking. No smoking. But it's still a party at this Christian nightclub

The Cove is a pop-up, 18-and-up Christian nightclub in Nashville, Tennessee

Where will you be for the April 8 total solar eclipse? There's still time to grab a spot

There are just a few weeks left to pick your spot to see the total solar eclipse on April 8 in North America

Related

Google's removal of apps from Play Store in India 'cannot be permitted' - minister

By Aditya Kalra NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Google's decision to remove some apps in India from its app store "cannot be permitted", Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Saturday, amid

Peace, music and memories: As the 1960s fade, historians scramble to capture Woodstock's voices

An estimated 450,000 people attended the Woodstock festival in August 1969

College athletes would need school approval for NIL deals under bill passed by Utah Legislature

College athletes in Utah who are looking to profit off their name, likeness and image will have to seek written approval from their school for any business deal exceeding $600

World Trade Organization ends meeting in UAE after failing to reach major agreements

Negotiators taking part in a World Trade Organization meeting in the United Arab Emirates have ended their summit after failing to reach agreements on several major initiatives

- Advertisement -
Advertisement: Limited Time Offer