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:
- Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change
- Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition
- Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Jos Delbeke, professor at the European University Institute in Florence and at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and formerly Director-General of the European Commission’s DG Climate Action
- David Keith, professor at Harvard and a leading authority on geoengineering
- Joe Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, with considerable experience working on climate change policy issues in the U.S. government
- Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, and an authority on infectious disease policy
- Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, and founding co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School.
- Sue Biniaz, who was the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator for the United States from 1989 until early 2017.
- Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kelley Kizier, Associate Vice President for International Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
- David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell International.
- Vicky Bailey, 30 years of experience in corporate and government positions in the energy sector.
- David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.
- Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk at the The New York Times.
- Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times from Washington.
- Spencer Dale, BP Group Chief Economist.
- Richard Revesz, professor at the NYU School of Law.
- Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environment and Law at Yale University.
- William Hogan, Raymond Plank Research Professor of Global Energy Policy at Harvard.
- Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
- John Graham, Dean Emeritus, Paul O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.
- Gernot Wagner, Clinical Associate Professor at New York University.
- John Holdren, Research Professor, Harvard Kennedy School.
- Larry Goulder, Shuzo Nishihara Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Stanford University.
- Suzi Kerr, Chief Economist, Environmental Defense Fund.
- Sheila Olmstead, Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin.
- Robert Pindyck, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Professor of Economics and Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management.
- Gilbert Metcalf, Professor of Economics, Tufts University.
- Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
- Paul Joskow, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics emeritus, MIT.
- Maureen Cropper, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland.
- Orley Ashenfelter, the Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics, Princeton University.
- Jonathan Wiener, the William and Thomas Perkins Professor of Law, Duke Law School.
- Lori Bennear, the Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Energy Economics and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.
- Daniel Yergin, founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and now Vice Chair of S&P Global.
- Jeffrey Holmstead, who leads the Environmental Strategies Group at Bracewell in Washington, DC.
- Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry & Environmental Engineering at Harvard.
- Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago.
- Billy Pizer, Vice President for Research & Policy Engagement, Resources for the Future.
- Daniel Bodansky, Regents’ Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.
- Catherine Wolfram, Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, currently on leave at the Harvard Kennedy School.
- James Stock, Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University.
- Mary Nichols, long-time leader in California, U.S., and international climate change policy.
- Geoffrey Heal, Donald Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise, Columbia Business School.
- Kathleen Segerson, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Connecticut.
- Meredith Fowlie, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, U.C. Berkeley.
- Karen Palmer, Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future.
- Severin Borenstein, Professor of the Graduate School, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.
- Michael Toffel, Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management and Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School.
- Emma Rothschild, Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History, Harvard University.
- Nathaniel Keohane, President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES)