Vice President Kamala Harris pledged at the United Nations climate summit on Saturday that the United States would spend billions more to help developing countries fight and adapt to climate change, telling world leaders that “we must do more” to limit rising global temperatures.
Her comments followed US officials announcing at the summit the same day that the federal government would, for the first time, require oil and gas producers to detect and fix methane leaks.
It was the most ambitious step to curb fossil fuel emissions that President Biden’s administration was expected to unveil at the summit, known as COP28. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere from pipelines, drilling sites and storage facilities, dangerously accelerating the rate of global warming.
Ms. Harris did not mention this new regulation in her remarks, which lasted less than five minutes and came before what was scheduled to be an afternoon of side discussions with Middle East leaders centered on the war between Israel and Hamas.
But the vice president, who was a late addition to the summit after Biden decided to skip it, highlighted what she said was nearly $1 trillion in new spending approved under the Biden administration for clean energy and climate efforts. It has pushed world leaders to go further.
“We must have the ambition to meet this moment, accelerate our investments and lead with courage and faith,” she said.
While many activists at the summit welcomed the methane announcement, they criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to end the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. The United States has seen an increase in domestic oil production over the past year, and Biden has approved some new drilling leases that have drawn criticism from environmental groups.
“To keep global warming within internationally agreed limits, we need a fair, rapid and funded phase-out of fossil fuels,” Lorne Stockman, research director at environmental group Oil Change International, said in a statement after the announcement. “So far, none of the methane-related measures announced by the United States, the world’s largest oil and gas producer, have met the required standards.”
Some groups at the summit also pointed out the fragility of Ms. Harris’s promise that the United States would send $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which benefits poor countries. In the past, Republicans have blocked US funds for climate change work abroad, and the Biden administration has instead tapped discretionary funds within the State Department.
Mr. Biden has failed to persuade Congress to fulfill previous climate aid pledges. White House officials did not say Saturday when or how the president would ask Congress to fund this new request, at a time when lawmakers are constrained by spending limits that Biden negotiated with Republicans during a battle over the country’s borrowing limit this year.
An official Treasury Department announcement of the new pledge, which followed Ms. Harris’ remarks, noted that the $3 billion amount was “subject to the availability of funds.”
The methane rule, first announced at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) by Michael S. Regan, the EPA administrator, said with more certainty: It is an administrative measure that does not require congressional approval and is scheduled to take effect next year. .
Methane is not as widely discussed as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, but it became a rare area of progress this week in global talks.
It is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. Methane does not remain in the atmosphere until about a decade after it is released, but it is about 80 times more powerful in the short term at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, which remains in the air for centuries.
Scientists say methane is responsible for more than a quarter of the global temperature rise since the pre-industrial era. They say cutting methane is necessary to achieve the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the target set in the Paris Agreement to avoid the worst effects of global warming, and acting now could help buy the planet time as countries grapple. With this problem. The most controversial problem is reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Officials said the new regulation would prevent 58 million tons of methane emissions by 2038. That’s equivalent to nearly all the carbon dioxide emitted by U.S. coal-fired power plants in one year. Mr. Reagan described it as one of the most important policies the United States will implement to slow the rate of climate change over the next decade and a half.
“I have come face to face with generations of family members who have been affected by this pollution for a very long time,” Reagan said at a news conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where the summit was held. “This is historic news for our climate.”
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, called the policy “the most impactful climate rule that the United States has ever adopted in terms of addressing temperatures that we would otherwise have experienced.”
But Republicans in Congress said the regulation would hurt the gas industry and raise energy prices for Americans at home.
“Federal overreach to advance a misguided climate agenda has become a staple of the Biden administration,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, said in a statement. She called the final rule “just another example of these harmful regulations.”
For many years, the fossil fuel industry has been divided over methane regulations. Some major global companies, including BP, have expressed support for the plan, while the US Independent Petroleum Producers, which represents small, independent oil companies, said the rule could shut 300,000 of the country’s 750,000 low-production wells. Which she called “necessary for energy production in our country.”
Climate activists said they hope the new US rule will pave the way for more global progress on reducing methane. But right now, emissions are going in the wrong direction. Methane emissions rose last year, according to a report from the institute World Meteorological Organization.
Other commitments to reduce fossil fuel emissions were also made at the conference on Saturday. An alliance of 50 oil and gas companies – including ExxonMobil; Aramco Saudi Arabia; ADNOC, the UAE’s state-owned oil company; ConocoPhillips and BP have pledged to reduce methane emissions by 80 to 90 percent by the end of this decade.
The alliance, called the Global Decarbonization Accelerator, was the main announcement from the UAE at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). It was denounced by 300 environmental groups, which said it did not go far enough to reduce fossil fuels.
These companies represent more than 40 percent of global oil production. The pledge is voluntary, but Bloomberg Philanthropies also announced a new $40 million program to boost transparency in the ways companies measure and report leaks.
John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate change, said reducing methane leaks was the “easier, faster, cheaper and simpler way” to cut emissions, because fixes essentially involve plugging leaks. “It’s mostly plumbing,” he said.
Five countries on Saturday joined a global coalition of countries, initiated by the United States and the European Union in 2021, ready to reduce global methane by 30 percent by 2030. They are: Angola, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Romania and Turkmenistan.
Kerry also said that the United States, the European Union and philanthropic groups have raised more than $1 billion in grant money to help reduce methane emissions. He said the money would go, in particular, to low- and middle-income countries.
A separate coalition of countries, development banks and nonprofit groups announced a new initiative to help developing countries phase out coal. The partnership, known as the Coal Transition Accelerator, will aim to provide affordable financing to poor countries seeking to build renewable energy and reuse coal infrastructure to support clean energy projects.
“The international community has a responsibility to support emerging economies in their strategy to phase out coal,” Emmanuel Macron, French President, said in a meeting on the efforts with the leaders of Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. “We need to change the rules of the game if we want to accelerate.”
David Gillis Contributed to reports.
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