Critics warn Biden that 30 percent methane reduction by 2030 not good enough

Critics warn Biden that 30 percent methane reduction by 2030 not good enough
January 4, 2020 — Vice President Joe Biden holds an event with voters in the gymnasium at McKinley Elementary School in Des Moines, where he addressed a number of issues including the recent escalation with Iran. Iowa member of Congress Abby Finkenauer was also on hand to announce her endorsement of Biden. Credit: Phil Roeder // https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Advocates of addressing the root causes of the global climate emergency on Friday called the United States and European Union's new pledge to reduce methane emissions at least 30% by 2030 a step in the right direction but still lacking in both necessary ambition and specifics.

"While it is encouraging to see governments' pledge to take serious action, the emissions target should be much stronger," said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter in a statement. "We know that more aggressive cuts in methane are well within reach over the next decade, and are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis."

Meaningful climate action, including any methane reduction plans, "must be rooted in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels," Hauter argued. "The Biden administration can and must stop all new fossil fuel projects, including an end to dirty energy exploitation of our public lands."

"We have known for years that the fracking boom—cheered on by so many political leaders—is creating an increase in methane emissions, water contamination, and air pollution," she added. "Instead of merely pledging to do better, governments around the world must put an end to the drilling and fracking that is fueling the climate emergency."

Hauter also highlighted concerns about gauging progress, given that bodies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "have continually underestimated methane emissions," and emphasized that such targets should not include a "so-called solution" like factory farm biogas, explaining that "these schemes seek to entrench harmful industrial agriculture practices, or to even encourage their expansion under the guise of climate action."

Shefali Sharma, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) European office, echoed Hauter's warning about such pratices, saying in a statement that "techno-fixes such as new feed additives and factory farm gas (or biogas digesters) are Band-Aids on a broken system of rising animal numbers, more methane, and air, land, and water pollution."

"The E.U. has missed a major opportunity in its recently finalized Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) revision to tackle methane," Sharma added. "It should ensure that its climate package and methane strategy don't make the same mistake. These policies must help European agriculture transition to agroecological practices rather than incentivizing industrial systems."

Multiple analyses this month have detailed industrial agriculture's contributions to global heating, particularly due to methane, which is up to 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. IATP is urging all countries to "begin to appropriately regulate livestock emissions and redirect public funds to support farmers in a just transition towards biodiverse, agroecological systems."

Ben Lilliston, IATP's director of rural strategies and climate change, said his group and other allies defending family farmers and the environment are calling on the Biden administration to tackle factory farm emissions by enforcing the Clean Air Act.

"Real action on methane," Lilliston said, "must include a transition away from factory farms toward less emitting, agroecological systems."

U.S. President Joe Biden formally unveiled the methane goal—reported by Reuters earlier this week—during a Friday meeting with leaders of other major economies, a follow-up to his April climate summit. Biden said the effort to cut methane emissions 30% this decade, relative to 2020, "will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit, like improving public health and agricultural output."

The Biden administration—which in April announced its aim to halve overall U.S. emissions by 2030—has faced mounting pressure to specifically address methane since its impact on the planet was flagged in the latest United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel last month urged the U.S. president to "cut oil and gas methane pollution 65% by 2025."

Repeating that call Friday, Pagel said that the new pledge "marks the first international government commitment specific to reducing methane climate pollution, but words are not enough. President Biden has an immediate opportunity to show he means what he says by directing the EPA to issue the strongest rules possible under the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from oil and gas production."

Kelly Sheehan Martin, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club, said Friday that "Biden must commit to even stronger methane reduction targets, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and make clean, renewable energy available to all of our families and communities, especially those already overburdened by harmful pollution."

Biden's confirmation of the new goal came as another U.N. report—released Friday in anticipation of COP 26, a global climate summit that kicks off October 31—reiterated the necessity of all nations ramping up efforts to cut planet-heating pollution. The analysis of countries' Paris agreement pledges projects a 16% increase in global emissions for 2030, compared to 2010, and warns that the world's average temperature could rise 2.7°C by the end of the century, far beyond the 1.5°C target.

During the Friday meeting, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reportedly warned world leaders that "the world is on a catastrophic pathway" to 2.7°C and "we need a 45% cut in emissions by 2030 to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century." Those comments came day just a day after Guterres wrote in the foreword of yet another U.N. climate report that "unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be impossible."

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