Two agreements emerge from COP26 summit – limiting methane and reversing forest loss

Signatories of the pledges would reduce methane emissions by 30 percent and end forest loss by 2030

3 November 2021
3 November 2021

This article was written by Fiona Broom and originally was published in SciDev.Net, the media partner of the Global Landscapes Forum at COP26.

Another pledge has come out at COP26 today, this time relating to methane emissions. More than 100 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge, under which signatories commit to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030, relative to 2020 levels.

Methane is released through burning fossil fuels, coal mining, agriculture and some industrial processes and is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. The pledge says that methane accounts for 17 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, and the energy sector has the greatest potential for reductions.

The signatories, which represent 70 per cent of the global economy, include agricultural powerhouses Brazil, the United States and Europe, as well as Argentina, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

Helen Mountford, climate and economics vice president at the non-profit World Resources Institute, said the pledge set a “strong floor in terms of the ambition we need globally”.

She explained rapid action to cut methane emissions would limit near-term warming and curb air pollution, improve food security and lead to better public health.

Forests 

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use commits signatories to work collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.

“We urge all leaders to join forces in a sustainable land use transition,” the declaration says.

“This is essential to meeting the Paris Agreement goals, including reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 [degrees Celsius], noting that the science shows further acceleration of efforts is needed if we are to collectively keep 1.5 [degrees Celsius] within reach.”

Walelasoetxeige Paiter Bandeira Suruí, a speaker at GLF Amazonia, spoke at COP26. More than 100 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge. Copyright: UNclimatechange. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Walelasoetxeige Paiter Bandeira Suruí, a speaker at GLF Amazonia, spoke at COP26. More than 100 countries have signed the Global Methane PledgeCopyright: UNclimatechange. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said that while the commitment was welcome, there were concerns about how the pledge would play out in reality.

“Halting deforestation has been promised before but failed hugely,” Antonelli said.

“We can’t afford repeating that – two in five plant species now face extinction – this is our last window of opportunity. What we need now is delivery, and enough details to hold our leaders to account.”

He said that any reforestation plans must follow best scientific practice to plant the right tree in the right place.

“Protection must start with the most biologically valuable ecosystems such as the Brazilian rainforests,” Antonelli said.

Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive at Oxfam, also cautioned that tree planting schemes were not a solution to climate change.

Outside a Glasgow Climate Dialogues event at the UK pavilion, he said that a recent Oxfam study estimated that using land to absorb the emissions of countries and companies that have pledged to become ‘net zero’ – that’s the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases released and the amount removed – would require up to 1.6 billion hectares of new forest.

“Even if we could come close to that, the impacts on food prices and food security [would be] disastrous,” Sriskandarajah said. “It’s another reminder of how climate action without climate justice, without [recognition of] loss and damage [to countries as a result of climate change], without proper climate finance is just not plausible.

“It’s morally wrong and technically bankrupt.”

Joan Carling, member of Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group, speaking at the Forest event. Copyright: Karwai Tang/UK Government. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Joan Carling, member of Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group, speaking at the Forest event. Copyright: Karwai Tang/UK Government. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

India and China

India has not yet signed up to the either the forests declaration or the methane reduction pledge, despite committing yesterday (Monday) to reduce greenhouse emissions over the next 50 years.

India’s pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 has been met with surprise by some.

Ritu Bharadwaj, climate governance and finance researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, said she had not expected the announcement, given India’s government had been resistant to decarbonising its economy.

She said the extended timeline – 20 years beyond many other countries’ commitments – was reasonable for a country where so many people still lived in extreme poverty.

“India at least needs two additional decades compared to its developed country counterparts to deal with the development backlog left behind by centuries of colonisation,” Bharadwaj said.

“India will need space to provide its poor population with reliable electricity … accessible roads, decent shelter.”

China has not signed up to the methane pledge, but it has committed to conserve forests and other ecosystems and accelerate their restoration under the forests and land use declaration. This declaration also includes a collective commitment to incentivise sustainable agriculture and redesign agricultural policies as necessary.


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