Global leaders have unveiled a raft of new announcements at COP28 targeting methane, moves cautiously welcomed by campaigners who nonetheless want further government action to tackle emissions from livestock.

During a summit on methane and non-CO2 greenhouse gases, COP28 host the United Arab Emirates (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.

Meanwhile, national governments, philanthropies and the private sector together announced more than $1bn in new grant funding for methane reduction. The funding is to support the so-called Methane Finance Sprint, which is due to be administered by a handful of entities including the World Bank and the Global Methane Hub. 

At the time of writing, there are as yet few details on exactly how much of the investment will go towards tackling methane emissions from agriculture. The UK government issued a statement outlining the country’s contribution to the funding pot and said the Methane Finance Sprint “will support projects in developing countries, helping them to reduce emissions in major methane emitting sectors such as energy, agriculture and waste”.

In its statement, the US government, which alongside China and the UAE convened the summit on methane and non-CO2 greenhouse gases, said it had announced final standards to sharply reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Washington said it would also review if it needs to revise US emission standards for waste landfills. The US statement, however, made no direct mention of agriculture nor livestock.

Just Food has contacted the US government to ask for more detail on how the $1bn in funds would be used to tackle methane emissions from agriculture.

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Nuša Urbancic, CEO of the Netherlands-based NGO Changing Markets Foundation, said: “Methane is finally getting the attention it deserves but livestock – the single biggest source of methane emissions – is still a major blindspot. Alongside commitments on finance, governments need to put regulation in place, which requires big meat and dairy corporations to invest in methane mitigation and set targets for methane reduction. The methane footprint of the three biggest meat companies is larger than that of oil giants such as Shell and BP and they should not be given a free pass from climate action.”

The philanthropic organisations involved in the $1bn funding issued their own statement outlining their $450m contribution to “help catalyse a faster phase-down of non-CO2 super climate pollutants”.

In the statement, the groups said a “majority” of that $450m will be used for “methane abatement”.

The statement added: “Methane must move beyond voluntary targets to mandatory measures at local, sub-national, national, and international levels, including through mandatory agreements that start with measures to reduce methane and other super pollutants in three critical sectors: oil and gas, agriculture and waste. These reductions will be critical to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach.”

Among the philanthropies pledging funds was the Bezos Earth Fund, set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It set out $57m in “food-related grants”, with $30m going towards reducing methane emissions.

The Bezos Earth Fund is supporting the Global Methane Hub’s Enteric Methane R+D Accelerator, funding for which was formally unveiled at COP28. More than $200m is being put forward, including from Danone, which announced its contribution last month. In January, Danone said it was working toward cutting absolute methane emissions from its fresh milk by 30% by 2030, compared to a 2020 baseline.

Ngonidzashe Chirinda, Professor of Sustainable Tropical Agriculture at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco and a member of the Expert Panel on Livestock Methane said: “Increased funding for research and development into the solutions for livestock methane is very welcome – farmers need affordable and effective ways to reduce emissions.

“But we can’t stop there. Significant reductions in emissions of livestock methane are possible today If governments and companies back the solutions we already have, including support for more effective livestock management and a shift to healthier diets with less meat and dairy where there is overconsumption.”

The call by COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber 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 Just Food sister site 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.

More countries join Global Methane Pledge

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.