Observations from Dubai Midway through COP-28

We’re half way through the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP-28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and so it’s a convenient time to assess developments.  In a new podcast, I engage in conversation with Jonathan Banks, the global director of the Methane Pollution Prevention Program at the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). 

This is a special mid-COP episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” which is produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Listen to the conversation here.

COP 28, which began on November 30th and is scheduled to run through December 12th, has featured a great deal of discussion on a variety of issues, but with an unprecedented amount of attention given to methane emissions and mitigation.

At the beginning of our conversation, Jonathan Banks states, “I’m just so amazed at how much attention and action I’ve seen on methane mitigation, and that’s a huge change because I’ve been coming to the COP for a long time, and we’ve never ever seen anything like this.”

Leading up to COP-28, there have been growing efforts to have countries incorporate methane reduction pledges into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the terms of the Paris Agreement.

“Many times, countries will lump all greenhouse gases together and create one target for the total greenhouse gases, but the push has been to get explicit mentions of methane in their NDCs, and we’ve made a lot of progress in that space over the last year to get a really high percentage of members of the Global Methane Pledge with methane into their NDC,” Banks says. “The new push really is to go beyond that and to get countries to set specific targets for methane in their NDCs.”

In the recently announced Sunnylands Statement, the United States and China, two of the largest methane emitting countries, pledged to include methane emission pledges in their NDCs in the next round, representing one of the ways that bilateral and multilateral agreements can supplement the efforts taking place under the auspices of the UNFCCC.

Jonathan Banks notes that “for all its positives [the UNFCCC process] does have some faults in that it is extremely cumbersome. It is difficult to move things at any speed through that process, and speed is what we need when it comes to methane… The other day, Inger Andersen, the head of the United Nations Environment Program, described methane as our lifeboat and we have to take it. It is the thing that we need to do the fastest in order to start to bend the curve on methane emissions. And so being outside of the UNFCCC process at least gives the opportunity for greater speed.”

Banks says he is also encouraged by several announcements at COP-28 of major pieces of domestic legislation and regulation.

“The United States announced their final regulations for the oil and gas sector, which could achieve up to an 80 percent reduction from the regulated sources it will cover. We saw the Canadian government announce their draft regulations, which we’ll get about a 75 percent reduction from the oil and gas sector. And right before COP, we had the European Union finalize its regulations for oil and gas, and that also included, for the first time ever a methane import standard, which will apply to all gas that is bought and sold into the E.U.”

Much of the attention on methane up until now has focused on emissions from the oil and gas sector, partly because it the low-hanging fruit (low abatement cost sources) in many — but not all — jurisdictions around the world. But coal-bed methane, landfills (waste), and agriculture (both livestock and paddy rice) are very important in some countries. And as emissions from fossil fuels are cut, these other sources will become the predominant focus of policy. In particular, Banks emphasizes that there will be increased attention to the agriculture sector.

“2030 is when we need to hit our 30 percent reduction target to keep 1.5 [global temperature rise] in reach. But after 2030, most of the methane emissions reductions are going to need to come from the agriculture sector. That’s where the growth will be. That’s where we will have made the least progress,” he says. “Because the [mitigation] costs are typically high and then it’s just harder to deploy things, there really needs to be a lot of focus on developing more solutions and building out the science around this… Those are some big things [and I am excited to see] a lot more attention to this.”

On a broader issue of great consequence, Banks says he is also heartened by the improving relationship between the U.S. and China, which will most likely increase their cooperation on climate policy.

“What we saw for the last year and a half or so or almost two years is that China and the U.S. weren’t talking on climate or anything else, and that is never a good thing. When they’re not talking, we’re not making any progress. I know that [lead U.S. climate negotiator] John Kerry’s team put in a massive amount of work to develop the relationship again in a way that allows for the U.S. and China to speak and to reach agreement and make progress. I’m really excited about that,” he says.

For this and much more, I hope you’ll listen to our complete conversation in this 55th episode of the Environmental Insights podcast series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.  You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunesPocket CastsSpotify, and Stitcher.