By Phil McKenna
The Environmental Defense Fund has a clear message for the Biden Administration on the eve of an international climate summit marking the U.S.’s further re-entry into the Paris climate agreement: “We need to cut methane now.“
So says the U.S.-based environmental advocacy organization in a 15-second ad released after a missive the nonprofit and other, leading environmental advocacy groups sent to the president earlier this month.
The letter calls for a 40 percent or more cut in methane emissions by 2030, including a 65 percent reduction from the oil and gas sector, as part of an ambitious U.S. recommitment to the Paris climate agreement. The commitment, or nationally determined contribution, is anticipated to be released by the administration any day as the U.S. prepares to host the online Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday and Friday.
Methane is “the biggest and really the only lever we have to slow temperature rise during the next two decades, the critical decades for preventing irreversible tipping points and shaving the peak warming to protect vulnerable communities,” said Sarah Smith, super pollutants program director with the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental organization that co-authored the letter.
Methane, the largest component of natural gas, is sometimes called a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it remains in the atmosphere for far less time than carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But methane is also a climate “super-pollutant,” 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.
Sources of methane include wetlands, rice paddies, livestock, biomass burning, organic waste decomposition and fossil fuel drilling and transport.
Methane’s potency and short atmospheric life make it a key greenhouse gas for policy makers to focus on as a way to combat global warming in the near term because the impact of those cuts will be felt almost immediately.
“If we cut methane emissions substantially during the 2020s, the abundance or concentration in the atmosphere will also drop rapidly during the 2020s,” said Drew Shindell, an earth science professor at Duke University. “If we cut CO2 emissions, it takes a long time for actual concentrations to drop, and then longer for the climate to adjust.”