On Saturday, during the third day of COP28, global leaders unveiled a raft of new announcements targeting methane at a summit convened by the US, China and COP28 host the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

During a summit on methane and non-CO2 greenhouse gases, the UAE called on parties to the Paris Agreement to submit national climate targets (nationally determined contributions, or NDCs), for 2035 that are economy-wide and cover all greenhouse gases, not just CO2 – echoing a recent commitment made by the US and China under a new bilateral climate deal.

The COP28 president’s call for all greenhouse gases to be included in NDCs is a “great” development, said Sean Maguire, strategic partnerships and communications director at the Clean Air Fund, a philanthropic foundation tackling global air pollution, in an interview with Energy Monitor in Dubai, because it will lead countries to start measuring the climate footprint of pollutants such as black carbon and methane.

“Once countries [start] reporting it, there’s much more of an incentive for them to start addressing it,” he explained.

In the run-up to the summit, climate experts had urged world leaders to prioritise the inclusion of methane – which accounts for roughly one-third of global warming – in a legally binding agreement. 

Saturday’s COP28 summit saw governments, philanthropies and the private sector together announce over $1bn in new funding for methane reduction, as part of a ‘Methane Finance Sprint’, which is due to be administered by a handful of entities including the World Bank and the Global Methane Hub

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In addition, a handful of countries – Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Angola, Kenya and Romania – joined the Global Methane Pledge, which commits signatories to cutting their methane emissions 30% by 2030 compared with 2020 levels.

At the summit, the US positioned itself as the global frontrunner on methane commitments in light of a new rule that will “sharply reduce emissions of methane and other harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas operations – including, for the first time, from existing sources nationwide”, in the words of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The action includes new performance standards to reduce methane and procedures for states to follow as they develop plans to limit methane from existing sources. 

“As the world gathers to tackle the climate crisis, the US now has the most protective methane pollution limits on the books,” Fred Krupp, president of NGO the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement

“Under President Biden and Vice President Harris’s leadership, the US is turbocharging the speed and scale of climate action, at home and abroad, including our collective efforts to tackle super-pollutants like methane,” added Ali Zaidi, assistant to President Biden and US national climate advisor.

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Another major announcement at COP28’s methane summit was the launch of the Oil & Gas Decarbonization Charter (OGDC), under which 50 oil and gas companies responsible for 40% of global oil production committed to significantly curbing their methane emissions. 

The Charter, whose signatories include state-owned oil giants like Saudi Aramco and supermajors like ExxonMobil, formalises COP28 President Al Jaber’s pre-COP calls for the industry to align with net zero by 2050 or sooner. OGDC signatories committed to reaching net-zero in their operations by 2050 at the latest, ending routine flaring by 2030, and reaching ‘near-zero’ upstream methane emissions.

“Today’s announcements are a step towards remedying [the] fundamental mismatch between the importance of cutting methane emissions [and] the opportunity it presents to bend the curve on climate, and the funding available to do it,” said Jonathan Banks, global director for methane pollution prevention at the non-profit Clean Air Task Force, in a statement following the summit.  

He added: “Rapidly reducing methane emissions is required to keep global climate goals within reach, and it’s the best way climate funders can maximise the return on their investments in terms of degrees of warming avoided in the next 20 years.” 

At COP28, NGOs have warned that anything short of a commitment to phase out fossil fuels is not enough. One day prior to the establishment of the OGDC, NGO Oil Change International penned an open letter to the COP28 presidency, criticising it for “encouraging fossil fuel companies to make yet another set of voluntary pledges”.

“Voluntary efforts are insufficient, and are a distraction from the task at hand,” the NGO said.