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Biden gathers world leaders to discuss climate action

Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is holding private talks Friday morning with world leaders — part of a last-minute push to convince other nations to commit to deep carbon emissions cuts before the upcoming United Nations climate summit.

Like the climate summit held earlier this year, this gathering of world leaders is virtual. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Biden intended to use the meeting to press for stronger action from leaders of countries that are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and to talk about how to help poorer countries pay for emissions cuts.

Administration officials have so far offered no details on which world leaders are taking part, including whether China will participate.

The talks today are also expected to focus on methane, the largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. Biden is planning to urge other countries to joint a "global methane pledge" brokered by the United States and Europe, under which countries would agree to cut their methane emissions by about a third below 2020 levels by the end of this decade.

Scientists established long ago that methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but it has received more scrutiny in recent years as its impact has become better understood. It has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. But it is comparatively short-lived in the atmosphere, fueling hope that significant reductions would affect the climate quickly.

Oil and gas companies face growing pressure to slash emissions of methane — a main component of natural gas — and more attention is being paid to emissions from coal production, the agricultural sector, large-scale livestock operations and landfills.

 

In the United States, the first federal regulations controlling methane emissions from oil and gas wells were enacted in 2016. They were eliminated under President Donald Trump but reinstated earlier this year through the use of a somewhat obscure law that allows Congress to repeal regulations enacted in the final weeks of a president's term.

A recent United Nations climate report on methane highlighted the importance of addressing it in tackling climate change. Published last May, the report called methane reductions one of the most cost-effective strategies to quickly curb global warming. It said that if emissions were cut by 45% by 2030, the world could avoid 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming and might prevent about 250,000 deaths from air pollution.

The U.S. and Europe's new pledge is the first international agreement focused on methane and its unveiling about six weeks before heads of state gather in Glasgow is intended to build support ahead of the climate summit.

Many countries, including the U.S., are not meeting their greenhouse gas reduction aims. A recent UN climate report warned that global action has been so slow that even if nations impose the strictest cuts to atmosphere-warming emissions today, warming is likely within the next two decades to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius — the more ambitious limit targeted in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Biden announced earlier this year that he would double the United States' original commitment to slashing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing its target to between 50% and 52% by 2030. Whether he's able to achieve those reductions will depend in large part on the future of a $3.5-trillion spending bill that Democrats hope to pass this fall.

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