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Cop26: Nearly 100 countries commit to ‘game-changing’ pledge to cut back planet-heating methane

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Close to 100 countries have committed to cutting back on the potent greenhouse gas methane at the Cop26 climate summit.

The nations have agreed to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, when compared to levels in 2020.

Brazil is among new signatories to the Global Methane Pledge, a deal spearheaded by the US and the European Union.

But several of the top-five methane emitters, including China, Russia and India, have not yet signed the pledge.

Formally announcing the agreement at an event at the summit today, president Joe Biden described it as a “game-changing commitment” in the fight against the climate crisis.

The multi-country effort to slash methane, a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, was first announced in September.

“At the time, nine countries had signed on. Today it’s over 80 and approaching 100 countries,” Mr Biden said.

“It’s going to make a huge difference, not just when it comes to fighting climate change. It’s going to improve health, reduce asthma and respiratory-related emergencies. It’s going to improve food supplies by cutting crop losses.”

“Methane is one of the gases we can cut fastest,” added Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

“Roughly 30 per cent of global warming since the industrial revolution is due to methane emissions ... Today global methane emissions grow faster than at any time in the past.

“Cutting back on methane emissions is one of the most effective things we can do to reduce near-term global warming and keep [to] 1.5C [of global temperature rise].”

The initiative now includes half of the top 30 methane emitters and covers two-thirds of the global economy, according to the US administration.

In September, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be among the first to sign up to the agreement. Indonesia and Canada are also signatories.

Most human-made methane emissions come from fossil fuels and agriculture, particularly livestock rearing.

Because it is potent but short-lived in the atmosphere, it has been described as the “strongest lever” available for reducing warming in the near term.

“Methane is an easy win in terms of climate action,” said Professor Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero at the University of Cambridge.

“[It] is the second most important greenhouse gas and rapid cuts would make an important difference. It has contributed about 0.5C to warming to date and, although it doesn’t stay as long in the atmosphere as CO2 in the first 20 years after its release, it is 80 times more powerful at heating.”

Professor Jim Watson, an expert in energy policy at UCL, described the announcement as a “significant step forward”.

“Many more countries [are] involved today than in the original announcement earlier this year,” he said.

“Brazil’s inclusion is also very important, given the size of its agricultural sector. Agriculture is the largest source of global methane emissions.”

However, a quick-fire analysis published in the wake of the announcement questioned whether the pact’s ability to cut heating in the short-term may have been overstated.

“We found that the pledge might reduce near-term warming but less than is often touted,” said Dr Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist from Imperial College London.

Professor Myles Allen, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford, added: “We need perspective: a 30 per cent cut in global methane emissions would reduce global temperatures by around one tenth of a degree. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions are driving temperatures up by over two tenths of a degree per decade.

“Unless we get CO2 on a path to net zero by mid-century, action on methane today won’t have much impact on peak warming.”

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