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Methane Agreement: A Rare Bright Spot in the Climate Fight

A commitment to reduce methane emissions is gaining momentum, but China and Russia have yet to sign on.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Flare stacks burn in Iraq.
Flare stacks burn, releasing methane, at the Nahr Bin Omar field, north of the southern Iraqi port of Basra, on Jan. 21. Hussein FALEH/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Two dozen additional countries join the pledge to reduce methane emissions, Taliban leaders hold talks with European Union officials in Doha, and the International Monetary Fund releases its World Economic Outlook.

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Kerry Hails Methane Pledge

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Two dozen additional countries join the pledge to reduce methane emissions, Taliban leaders hold talks with European Union officials in Doha, and the International Monetary Fund releases its World Economic Outlook.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Kerry Hails Methane Pledge

Global efforts to reduce global warming received a welcome boost on Tuesday as 24 additional countries signed on to the U.S. and EU-led Global Methane Pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from today’s levels by the end of the decade.

In announcing the newcomers, White House climate envoy John Kerry hailed the agreement as “the single most effective strategy to reduce near-term global warming and keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.”

Although there is 200 times more carbon dioxide than methane in the Earth’s atmosphere, the latter is 80 times more potent over a 20-year period when it comes to trapping heat. Unlike carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, methane breaks down in roughly a decade, meaning efforts to reduce it have an outsized impact.

“It’s a uniquely big deal,” Matt Watson, an energy policy expert at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Foreign Policy. “Just a few years ago, methane emissions were not part of most countries’ climate diplomacy and climate commitments, and to see more than 30 countries coming together to make a fairly ambitious play, its just quite remarkable.”

The pledge still has some key absentees. Just eight countries account for half of all human-induced methane emissions, but only four—Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and the United States—have signed on, with Brazil, China, India, and Russia the holdouts.

Organizers are optimistic that more than 100 countries will join the pledge before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow begins on Oct. 31 and highlighted the inclusion of nine of the 20 worst methane polluters already.

Where to start. Anthropogenic methane is mostly produced in the agriculture and fossil fuel industries, and although techniques to reduce agricultural methane are progressing—from cow masks to livestock feed alternatives—the technology to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas is readily available and cheap. A recent report from the International Energy Agency estimates that existing technology could cut 70 percent of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, with a 45 percent reduction possible at no net cost.

COP troubles. The agreement is a much-needed shot in the arm ahead of the COP26 summit, which is still likely to fall short of standards set by COP21, the conference that led to the Paris Agreement.

The leader of the largest coal importer, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is expected to maintain his self-imposed travel ban and miss the gathering in person while the leader of the largest coal exporter, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said he has yet to decide whether to make the journey.

What We’re Following Today

IMF ups and downs. Global economic growth is expected to fail to reach previous expectations as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) releases its biannual World Economic Outlook today. The fund estimated global growth of 6 percent in its June report, although that figure is likely to be downgraded as rising debt loads and a lack of coronavirus vaccines hobble developing countries recovery.

The cloud over IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva has lifted somewhat after the fund’s executive board concluded that an investigation into her alleged interference in a World Bank report in a previous role “did not conclusively demonstrate” impropriety. In a statement, the board reaffirmed its “full confidence in the managing director’s leadership and ability to continue to effectively carry out her duties.”

Taliban advances. A Taliban delegation will meet with EU officials today in Doha, days after it met with U.S. officials, as the group continues its push for international recognition. In announcing today’s meeting, Afghan acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi reiterated that the Taliban want “positive relationships with the whole world.” Talks with Russian representatives are expected to follow later this month.

Speaking to Lynne O’Donnell in Foreign Policy, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Mansoor Ahmad Khan, advised that “engagement has to continue between the Taliban government and the international community in order to ensure that the Afghan state is not isolated.”

Meanwhile, G-20 leaders will hold a special virtual summit today on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, with U.S. President Joe Biden expected to attend.

Keep an Eye On

Poland vs. the EU. Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau has sought to play down the impact of a court ruling that held that the national constitution had primacy over EU law, which brought thousands of Poles to the streets in support of the European Union over the weekend. In a series of tweets on Monday evening, Rau maintained the EU had overstepped its bounds in certain areas, and France and Germany—two of the major opponents of the Polish court’s decision—would also see it the same way.

Tigray battles. Ethiopian government and irregular forces have launched a multi-front assault on Tigrayan fighters, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front claimed, adding the offensive includes airstrikes, drone attacks, and artillery bombardments. The Ethiopian government has not confirmed or denied the fresh assault, and communication blackouts make any independent confirmation difficult.

Odds and Ends

North Korea and South Korea have united in anger over a controversial bowl of Japanese seafood curry after reports surfaced online of the dish’s subversive attempts to lay claim to a disputed group of islets between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. According to the Guardian, the meal—served by a restaurant on the Japanese island of Okinoshima—includes two rice clumps shaped into the disputed Takeshima islands (which Koreans refer to as Dokdo) with a miniature Japanese flag placed on top.

A North Korean news site said the dish was surely meant as a sign that Japan plans to “capture” the islands while a South Korean newspaper reported the move was a “typical cheap trick” by the Japanese.

South Korea lays claim to the islands with a 40-person strong military base on the east island, while the sole permanent resident, Kim Sin-yeol, lives on the west island.

Correction: A previous version misstated the last surviving resident of the Dokdo islands.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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