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Climate and Environment

At Summit Of The Americas, Leaders Including Gov. Newsom Double Down On Methane Pledges To Ease Climate Crisis

John Kerry speaks at a podium in a dark suit and tie. A map of the world is behind him and people sit in white seats watching him speak.
U.S. Climate Envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the Global Methane Hub reception at the Summit of the Americas in downtown L.A. on June 8, 2022.
(Erin Stone
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At the Summit of the Americas in downtown L.A. this week, leaders are discussing pressing issues for the continent. Among them is the climate crisis, including methane emissions.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and officials from Uruguay, Argentina, Canada and Barbados spoke at a meeting specifically focused on how to reduce methane, a greenhouse gas that’s driven at least a third of the global heating the world has experienced since the Industrial Revolution.

The biggest methane emitters include leaky oil and gas operations, the livestock industry, and landfills. Scientists say cutting methane emissions from these sectors is one of the quickest strategies to keep global heating down and avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. Kerry noted that’s especially important as increasing temperatures melt Arctic permafrost that’s kept methane underground for millions of years.

“We’re at an absolutely critical stage for all of us, for the whole planet,” Kerry said. “You can look at the damage being done all around the world, whether it’s the droughts that are prolonged or start earlier, the heat of any given day that breaks records every summer.”

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“The single, biggest, fastest, easiest reduction you get in warming,” Kerry continued, “is by dealing with methane.”

Methane leaks from oil and gas operations account for about 40% of total methane emissions and estimates are likely low, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s why this Summit discussion centered methane and involved countries who are part of the Global Methane Pledge, a first-of-its-kind agreement made between more than 110 countries who, together, are responsible for about 45% of the world’s methane emissions.

A map if the world with some countries highlighted in blue and others in green.
The countries in neon have signed the nonbinding Global Methane Pledge.
(Erin Stone

Almost every country in the Americas has signed on. Though it’s not legally binding, they’ve agreed to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030.

If those countries meet that goal, Kerry said, “it is the equivalent of every automobile in the world, truck, plane, ship, going to zero by 2030. That’s an enormous reduction.”

That would keep limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach — a goal agreed upon in the Paris Agreement in 2015. The agreement has driven many of the goals set by countries around the world after the United Nations’ most recent direreport on the state of the climate crisis and what’s needed to avoid consequences that could displace billions and reconfigure global society by the end of the century.

The partnerships on methane will be bolstered by an increase in monitoring by the non-profit Carbon Mapper, said Riley Duren, a former NASA engineer and director of Carbon Mapper. They’ve already mapped methane super-emitters in California, and have partnered with Canada to start mapping there this summer, the first time they'll do such mapping outside the U.S.

They’ve also started discussions with Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and other Latin American countries next year to map emissions. All the data will be free and published online.

So far, they’ve seen 44 facilities voluntarily plug their leaks, Duren said. They do another flyover to confirm the leaks have been plugged.

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“Actionable data can translate to real action,” Duren said.

The focus also was on the unequal impacts of methane. Latin America and the Caribbean contribute less than 10% of the world’s total emissions, yet are dealing with some of the worst impacts such as sea level rise, more severe and devastating storms and food insecurity from drought.

Newsom touted the economic power of California, which he said has allowed the state to invest more than most other states — and nations — in climate initiatives He discussed the $47 billion he’s putting towards climate initiatives here in California over the next two years.

“We're trying to move forward away from ambition to actually implement,” Newsom said. "And that's hard. That's a challenge…but it's come with new resolve and resources. And I think what's meaningful about this state, the world's fifth largest economy, is California's capacity to invest.”

That served as a stark juxtaposition to the state of global climate funding, something Argentina Secretary of Climate Change Cecilia Nicolini emphasized in her speech. In a previous international agreement, the richest nations agreed to send a combined $100 billion a year to countries in the Global South to help them adapt to the changing climate. That money hasn’t come through and many nations view it as too small to make a difference.

“Countries like Argentina face a double challenge,” Nicolini said. “We must reduce gaps and satisfy the economic and social needs of our people, improving their quality of life, and do so in the context of this planetary crisis.”

Argentina is working to lower methane emissions particularly in the livestock sector, which contributes the vast majority of the country’s methane emissions. To do that while growing their economy, the country needs funding, she said.

“From the Global South, we need financing to meet the challenges that await us,” Nicolini said. “We need to face the climate crisis without leaving anyone behind.”

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