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Climate meeting proposes national methane plans

National action plans for curbing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane were among the options discussed by ministers from the US, China, EU, UK and almost 20 other countries.

Blueprints for how to cut methane emissions, and the technical or financial support that countries might need, were discussed by ministers from nations responsible for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions on Thursday, according to senior US officials.

The turnout included nations heavily reliant on fossil fuels, such as India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia, for the so-called Major Economies Forum on energy and climate, a virtual meeting hosted by the US special envoy for climate, John Kerry.

The session was the first significant international gathering on climate change since the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, where almost 200 countries made pledges to cut emissions and “phase down” the use of coal.

One of the key outcomes in Glasgow was the commitment by more than 100 countries to cut emissions from methane by 30 per cent by the end of the decade compared to 2020 levels.

The main sources of methane are agriculture and leaks from the production and distribution of natural gas, which is made up mainly of methane.

Tackling methane emissions is seen as a crucial step in limiting climate change: it has 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. But emissions of the gas are “often easily avoidable,” according to Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency.

Kerry also said that many ministers at Thursday’s meeting had “underscored the importance of countries whose 2030 targets are not yet aligned with the Paris goal [limiting global warming to 1.5C ideally] strengthening them this year”.

The US was among the big polluters to indicate they might not improve their national climate targets this year, despite the Glasgow pact.

The world has already warmed an average of 1.1C since pre-industrial times, with the US being the largest emitter historically.

“I look forward to our next meeting and to our next leaders meeting, when we can hopefully take things to the next level,” Kerry added. The leaders’ meeting is yet to be scheduled.

Turning the COP26 commitments into reality was a key theme at the ministerial meeting, according to US officials.

Also discussed was the possible creation of a goal for the proportion of newly installed power that should come from zero-carbon sources this decade.

Although a broad range of pledges were agreed by the public and private sectors at COP26, vulnerable countries stressed at the ministerial session on Thursday that fundamental problems remained unresolved. These included access to financing for poorer nations to develop clean energy sources.

Nations agreed in Glasgow to start a “dialogue” on loss and damage resulting from global warming, but a proposal by some vulnerable nations to establish a new funding facility to help affected countries was unsuccessful.

A loss and damage facility was “a red line for a handful of developed countries,” said Milagros De Camps, from the Dominican Republic’s ministry of environment and natural resources, this week. “How is this climate justice? In what world can we begin to treat these impacts without dedicated finance?” The US was among those to object, she added.

Attendees at Thursday’s meeting included representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, which chairs the Alliance of Small Island States, Bangladesh, chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and Senegal, which chairs the Least Developed Countries group.

Some ministers from developing countries were vocal about the need for rich countries to support developing countries in fighting and adapting to climate change, according to US officials.

They highlighted the difficulty of accessing climate finance, and stressed the need for rich nations to make good on their promise to deliver $100bn a year in support from 2020 — which they have so far failed to do.

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