Biden joins global push to cut climate-warming methane emissions
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Leaders from across the globe are gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for this year's United nations climate change conference. After being canceled last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's conference seeks to urgently find solutions to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Joining me to talk about what we can expect to come out of. The conference is David Victor, professor and chair of innovation and public policy at UC San Diego school of global policy and strategy. David welcome. It's great to be with you. So president Biden is expected to speak at the conference shortly, which KPBS will carry live. What is he expected to talk about today?
Speaker 2: (00:39)
Well, he's going to put a lot of focus on a signature announcement earlier today to make big reductions in methane emissions from the United States. Methane is a very important greenhouse gas because it's really one of the strongest greenhouse gases and as a short lifetime in the atmosphere. So if you make a big effort to control it, and you have an immediate benefit in the climate, the U S is going to be cutting its own methane emissions about 75%. And it's leading a partnership around the world to make a reduction of about 30%, uh, worldwide. So it's, it's a major initiative that's been in the works for awhile, but was announced, uh, officially earlier today. And he'll be talking more about that.
Speaker 1: (01:11)
And you mentioned that partnership, the conference started Sunday. Have there been any significant decisions made at the conference so far?
Speaker 2: (01:19)
Well, the formal decisions from the conference will happen at the end of the two weeks and there'll be formal diplomatic decisions. So they require consensus. So I don't expect anything major from that. Cause it's hard to get consensus with so many nations on practically anything, but we have seen as the conferences that is a deadline really for country to come forward with their plans. We've seen this big announcements around methane. There was a similar announcement earlier today, around a big program to cut deforestation in Brazil, Indonesia, and some other places. A couple of days ago, there was a big program on clean steel and aluminum. Uh, earlier today there was an announcement, uh, to help South Africa move beyond coal. So that's a big deal in South Africa is one of the largest consumers of coal in the world. So what you're seeing is a lot of these very focused announcements and that's, uh, I think very encouraging.
Speaker 1: (02:04)
There are some notable absences from this year's conference. The leaders of China and Russia in particular are not attending. What does this mean for what the conference will be able to achieve? I mean, will it hamper efforts to make significant strides in fighting global climate change?
Speaker 2: (02:20)
It's going to limit that a little bit. In particular, the absence of the Chinese leadership is a big deal. If you go, if you rewind the tape of history and go back to 2013, 14 on the run-up to the last big climate conference in Paris in 2015, it was cooperation between the United States and China that really defined what was possible, how the world would, would try and tackle this problem collectively. And today the us and Chinese relationship is in terrible shape. China has not, their leader has not left the country for any of these major events. And now I think 20 months and so that the insularity of the Chinese leadership and frankly the political toxicity geopolitically, that that's a big concern and that's a shadow over an event like this.
Speaker 1: (03:02)
Um, you know, how does governor Newsome's last minute cancellation affect California's presence at the conference? Could that impact the state's influence on climate change policy?
Speaker 2: (03:13)
Well, I think it's kind of a Tempest in a teapot. A lot of people have been speculating. Why didn't you go? And we really believe him. And so on. I think the reality is the California is, is doing a lot on climate change for reasons that make sense in California. I do think though, the one thing we have to keep our eyes on as Californians is that we do a lot of leadership on climate change policy and that's important, but we're less than 1% of global emissions. So frankly, what matters is followership, it matters that we help the rest of the world learn the right lessons from what we're experimenting with in California. And whenever we send the governor overseas to an event like that, it puts more focus on that. And so we need to keep doing that, but that's not pivotal to the core climate strategy here in the state.
Speaker 1: (03:55)
And you'll be traveling to Scotland later this week to attend the conference. What do you hope will be achieved by the time it ends next week?
Speaker 2: (04:03)
Um, well first I hope not to have failure. Uh, these diplomatic conferences, we have to get consensus at the end. There's always this risk of failure. In 2009, there was a big failure at the conference in Copenhagen that kind of took the wind out of the sails, uh, reduced the legitimacy of the global effort and so on. And so there are a number of simmering diplomatic disputes that could really cause problems. So that's the first thing I'm looking for. The second thing to some degree is already happening, which is there's a new theory of change at work, which is we're not going to make progress by global committee. We're going to make back progress by folks working a sector by sector, country, by country. And in fact, changing the facts on the ground and making it easier to show how we're going to cut emissions. That's why the south African program is so important. That's why, what we do here in California is so important that when you alter the local conditions and you demonstrate technologies and you bring down the costs, it makes it much easier for the rest of the world to do something similar. And that's what I'm going to be looking more more to in the Scotland meetings over the coming 10 days or so.
Speaker 1: (05:03)
And what specifically are your goals at the conference when you attend?
Speaker 2: (05:07)
Well, I don't go to all of these because that's just too painful. I've been to four or five of them. Um, I'm going to this one because this is the first big refresh of the pledges that government's made back in 2005 in the, in the Paris conference. And so this is an opportunity to see, not just what governments say they're gonna do, but also whether they're actually putting on the table, the plans. And so I'll be meeting with a number of not just government leaders, but also people from industry and people from NGOs, from, from activist groups to, to try and take the pulse of whether we're actually making progress in changing those facts on the ground. Oh,
Speaker 1: (05:42)
Well, I wish you safe travels there. I've been speaking with David Victor, professor of innovation and public policy at UC San Diego school of global policy and strategy. David, thanks so much for joining us.
Speaker 2: (05:54)
Always a pleasure.
Updated November 2, 2021 at 2:36 PM ET
The Biden administration is proposing stricter regulations to reduce leaks of methane from oil and gas industry operations. It comes as world leaders at the U.N. climate meeting in Glasgow are pushing countries to join a global pledge to cut methane, a climate-warming gas that's even more potent than carbon dioxide.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. But it doesn't stay in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide, the most common human-caused greenhouse gas. That's why the Environmental Protection Agency says reducing methane emissions now "would have a rapid and significant effect" on global warming.
Last April, Congress restored Obama-era methane regulations, but they only apply to new and modified operations. In a major expansion, these new rules also will apply to existing facilities.
"America is back and leading by example in confronting the climate crisis with bold ambition," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
His agency estimates the proposed regulations would reduce 41 million tons of methane emissions by 2035, more than the equivalent carbon dioxide emitted from all passenger cars and commercial aircraft in the country in 2019.
Another agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), is issuing a final rule that expands federal oversight to include more natural gas pipelines. For the first time, more than 425,000 miles of "gathering pipelines" that move gas from production sites to interstate pipelines will be regulated by the Department of Transportation.
"After years in development, these new regulations represent a major step to enhance and modernize pipeline safety and environmental standards," said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
A senior administration official says that next year PHMSA also will propose a safety rule to regulate methane leaks from 2.3 million miles of distribution pipelines in cities.
The oil industry is split on strict methane regulation
The oil, gas and coal industries are the largest source of human-caused methane emissions. An Environmental Defense Fund study found that cutting methane emissions now could slow the near-term rate of global warming by as much as 30%.
But the industry is split on whether there should be more government regulations. Big oil companies generally support more rules and smaller ones oppose them.
The large companies are heavily invested in natural gas. They worry that if methane emissions aren't controlled it could undermine arguments that gas is cleaner-burning than coal for generating electricity.
BP says it "applauds the EPA for proposing new rules aimed at reducing methane emissions." BP America Chairman and President Dave Lawler says in a statement the company "supports the direct federal regulation of methane emissions from new and existing sources."
Smaller drillers worry the new rules will make it harder for them to stay in business.
"The methane regulations proposed today by EPA will likely result in significant new costs associated with compliance," says Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration & Production Council. Hinting at a possible legal challenge, Bradbury says her group will work with the EPA to craft regulations that "are cost-effective and workable" and "can withstand legal scrutiny."
In 2014, Colorado was the first state to regulate methane from the oil and gas industry. Since then, the state has found — based on reports from oil and gas companies — that methane emissions have increased more slowly than oil production. But in Boston, a new study using a different method finds methane leaks along smaller distribution lines are six times higher than state estimates. The study authors indicate methane leaks in other cities may also be higher than what the EPA has estimated.
Methane is getting more attention globally
Carbon dioxide gets most of the attention when it comes to greenhouse gases but lately there's more focus on methane. In May, a U.N. report urged immediate cuts in methane, calling it "the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years."
As President Biden seeks to pass budget legislation to support his climate change plans, Democrats have drafted several forms of a methane fee. The details are still being worked out in Congress, but essentially the fee would charge oil and gas companies for releasing certain amounts of methane and potentially pay them to monitor and reduce emissions. Past methane fee proposals have faced opposition from the oil industry and even Democrats in fossil fuel states.
In Glasgow, the U.S. and the European Union are leading an effort for a Global Methane Pledge. Countries that sign it commit to collectively reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030.
"It's one of the most potent greenhouse gases there is," Biden said as he addressed the U.N. climate meeting Tuesday. "It amounts to about half — half the warming we're experiencing today — just methane."
The White House says meeting that goal would reduce warming by at least 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit).
More than 100 countries have signed the pledge so far. Notably absent are some of the world's largest methane emitters, including China, India and Russia. Biden didn't mention those countries specifically, but he did encourage more countries to sign on to the pledge.
"For too long this potent super pollutant has fallen off the agenda at major climate summits while its emissions have risen to all-time highs," said Sarah Smith of the Clean Air Task Force. She said this risks "pushing our planet closer to potentially irreversible tipping points."
What the EPA announced Tuesday is just a proposed regulation. Now the agency will collect comments, with final rules expected by the end of 2022.
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