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.


What to Expect at COP-28 in Dubai

With just a few days remaining until the start of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), COP28 is the focus of this blog post and my most recent podcast.  In the podcast, I engage in conversation with environmental economist Nathaniel Keohane, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).  Nat will be leading the C2ES delegation at COP28.  I’ll also be at COP28, with our group from the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.   So, at the end of this blog post, I provide a list of Harvard activities at COP28.

This is a special pre-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.

Keohane, before becoming president of C2ES, was Senior Vice President for Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and before that served in the Obama Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Environment.

In our podcast conversation, Nat explains that the “Global Stocktake” will play a prominent role at COP28 in Dubai beginning later this week.  In fact, he expresses considerable optimism that the Global Stocktake will provide incentives for participating nations to step up their collective efforts to slow the rise of global temperatures.

“What we’re looking for coming out of this COP is to highlight a handful of those high-level political signals coming out of this global stocktake. Things like a commitment to triple renewable energy globally by 2030. Things like slashing methane emissions. You can imagine a handful of others on land use and carbon sinks, on adaptation and global finance, a handful of things that can define an action agenda for 2024 and then can inform what countries do when they set those more ambitious targets in 2025. That’s the real centerpiece of this COP,” he says. “The goal is to catalyze action and collaborative cooperative action in 2024, looking ahead to 2025, not just simply to say, ‘Well, gee, we’re off track. That’s too bad’… We need to catalyze action going forward.”

Keohane remarks that the controversial issue of “Loss and Damage” will also play a prominent role in the negotiations this year as the concept of providing financial support to the nations hardest hit by climate change becomes more widely accepted. 

“I think we’ve come a long way with the recognition that there are damages that the most vulnerable countries are going to suffer, are suffering already, that go beyond simply the investments in adaptation and climate resilience, and that there needs to be some way to address those. And I think we’ve made a fair amount of progress, even though it’s not going to be satisfying to everybody right away,” he says. “I think it’s the first step towards an institution over time that can grow and build and become something more important.”

We discuss how the recent COPs have grown larger with a growing contingency of participants from the private sector, NGOs, and multi-lateral organizations that are dedicated to advancing the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“[The COP] really becomes a magnet, a draw for everybody working on climate. And the fact that all those side events have become so big I think reflects the fact that climate is now central to the decisions that policymakers are making, not just in a Climate Ministry or an Environment Ministry, but in the Treasury and in Finance Ministries and in Energy Ministries and so on. Climate is [also] central to what businesses are doing and how they’re making plans,” Nat says. “I’ve always been of the view [that if] we didn’t have the COP already we would have to invent it because we need that kind of focal point for people to come and gather talking about what I think is the most existential issue of our time.”

For this and much more, I encourage you to listen to our complete conversation in this 54th episode of the Environmental Insights podcast series.

As I noted at the outset of this blog post, both Keohane and I will participate in COP28 events in Dubai.  So I close this special pre-COP edition of my blog with a description of some of our own – that is, Harvard – activities at COP28.


Linked with my current role as director of a Harvard-wide initiative on Reducing Global Methane Emissions, which I’ve described in detail in previous essays at this blog, much – but not all – of our focus at COP28 will be on methane and related public policies.  Indeed, efforts around and impacts of global methane-emissions abatement will be our focus in our official Side Event on December 6, at COP28.

Reducing Global Methane Emissions: Imperatives, Opportunities, and Challenges

This panel will feature several leading scholars and climate policy experts who will discuss current research and practice on technology, policy, and international cooperation, drawing in part on Harvard’s major new methane initiative supported by the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability at Harvard University. I will moderate the discussion.

The other panelists will be: 

  • Stephen Hammer, Chief Executive Officer, New York Climate Exchange, and former Methane Lead, World Bank;
  • Claire Henly, Senior Advisor for Non- CO2 greenhouse gases, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate; 
  • Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Harvard University and global expert on satellite-based methane detection and attribution; 
  • Helena Varkkey, Associate Professor of Environmental Politics and Governance, Universiti Malaya and Principal Investigator, UM-CERAH-EDF initiative on methane emissions in Malaysia

Time, Date, and Location:  December 6, 2023, 3:00 – 4:30 pm local time, Side Event Room 4, COP-28, Expo City, Dubai

(Note: All official side events are within the “Blue Zone” at COP-28; registration for the COP and a badge are required to enter)

For questions and further information about this and the other COP28 events that follow below, please contact:  Jason Chapman (Jason_chapman@hks.harvard.edu).

Some other speaking engagements of mine at COP28 include:

Net Zero in Action: Showcasing Decarbonization Technologies

December 5, 10:00 – 11:30 am, panelist at IPIECA event: “Net Zero in Action: Showcasing Decarbonization Technologies,” Pavilion of the International Emissions Trading Association, Blue Zone. 

Transforming High Global Warming Potential Sectors through Carbon Markets

December 6, 9:00-10:30 am, panelist, where RNS will make a presentation on “The Promise and Peril of GHG Markets for Reducing Global Methane Emissions,” Asian Development Bank Pavilion, Blue Zone

Application of Low Emission Development Strategies and Progress of Global Energy Transition

December 6, 1 – 2:30 pm, Robert Stavins is a panelist at Ninth Global Climate Change Think Tank Forum. The event is hosted by China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation. Theme: “Application of Low Emission Development Strategies and Progress of Global Energy Transition,” China Pavilion, Blue Zone.

In addition to Professors Stavins and Jacob, the Harvard delegation in Dubai will include several leading scholars from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and others from around Harvard.

HSPH is sponsoring two events at COP-28: 

“Linking Agendas of the UNFCCC and the World Health Assembly – Regional perspective,” 3 – 4:30 pm, December 6, Guatemala Pavilion, Blue Zone.

 “Linking Agendas of the UNFCCC and the World Health Assembly – Global perspective,” 9:30 – 10:45 am, December 12, WHO Pavilion, Blue Zone.

For more information on the HSPH events, contact Liz Willetts (ewilletts@hsph.harvard.edu).

I hope to see many of you at one or more of these events, and/or other meetings, in the hallways, or elsewhere at COP28 in Dubai!

Finally, I want to remind you to listen to this 54th episode of the Environmental Insights 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.


Adam Smith, Methane Emissions, and Climate Change

Most of my guests in my podcast series, “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” have been academic economists, but I’ve also had the privilege of talking with some leading lights from other disciplines, including ones that seem adjacent to economics, such as political science and law, and also some that are further afield, such as physics and chemistry.  Most recently, I had the opportunity to delve into a realm that bridges the humanities (in particular, history) and social science (in particular, economics), by talking with a star in the field of economic history, Emma Rothschild, the Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History at Harvard, and Fellow at Magdalene College and Honorary Professor of History and Economics at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.  The podcast is produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.  You can listen to our complete conversation here.

Professor Rothschild, who serves as director of the Harvard Joint Center for History and Economics and a faculty contributor to the Visualizing Climate and Loss project, has devoted much of her academic career to research and teaching at the intersection of history, economics, and the environment, where she sees growing opportunities to affect thinking about climate change.

“One of the things that makes me very optimistic now about my field is that so many people interested in economic history are now seeing that the environment and climate [are] part of economic history and vice versa,” she states. “I’ve been … struck by how many of the top [academic job] candidates this year actually have either environmental papers, climate papers, or history papers as part of their portfolios, and in many cases, both actually. I just think the PhD students are kind of understanding this much faster than perhaps the educational establishment.”

Rothschild has focused a considerable part of her scholarly work on the Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith, credited for helping originate the study of free market economies. Specifically, Rothschild says she became intrigued by why some people blame Smith for today’s global climate change problem.  

“I became interested in the question, ‘Well, did he say anything that could conceivably have led people to think this? And what did he, to the extent that we can discern this, think about the origins of the industrial revolution in relation to a more plausible, causal story about how industrial growth of the late 18th century actually did lead to contemporary climate change?,’” she says.  Rothschild has written a series of papers about Smith to gain a deeper understanding of “the ways in which Smith’s ideas can be of interest in thinking about the discordant times in which we now live.”

Emma is also deeply involved in the Methane In 1,800 Histories project, designed to promote discussion and research on the 1,800 local sites of severe methane emissions around the world.

“This project came about really opportunistically when I saw a very good article that was the cover piece in Science a little over a year ago by some French climate scientists who were actually able to map almost 1,800 sites of ultra methane emissions worldwide. A lot of this has been done for the U.S. and for other countries. They were able, using satellite data, to give a literally worldwide overview of where the largest methane emitters were,” she states.

“And this turned into a collaborative project,” she continues. “We’d done a big visualization of all the sites. And the aspiration is that young historians [and] young economists will actually investigate each of these sites and thereby contribute to an understanding of the history of why climate change is happening. And, of course, thereby in turn, start to think in a practical and local way about what can be done about the sites.”

Related to this is her research project with Steve Wofsy, Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science at Harvard, “Using Remote Sensing Data to Inform Micro-Histories of Methane-Release Sites,” which is part of the Harvard-wide Initiative on Reducing Global Methane Emissions, sponsored by the Salata Institute on Climate and Sustainability at Harvard.

Rothschild goes on to argue that local solutions to climate change may seem more plausible to people who are daunted by the enormity of the challenge.

“Part of what’s so difficult about climate change is that the instruments, mainly global policy change, seem so beyond the capacity of individuals or groups to affect,” she remarks “Climate change is really immediate to people in their early 20s or late teens thinking about their own lives and thinking about, ‘What can I do with all the knowledge I’m acquiring, all the skills that I have, to do something?’”

For this and much, much more, I encourage you to listen to this 53rd episode of the Environmental Insights 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 iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.