Richard Killmer

Two significant announcements at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland — known as COP26 — will likely play a huge role as the nations of the world make the reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that they promised to produce by 2030.

Both could help protect the world that our grandchildren will inhabit, by achieving the Paris climate agreement goals of keeping the rise in global warming under 1.5 degrees centigrade and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

First, more than 100 countries agreed to cut their methane emissions 30% by 2030 under the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative launched by the United States and the European Union.

Methane is about 84 times more powerful at warming the climate than carbon dioxide over the short term. Since it only stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years, compared to hundreds of years for carbon dioxide, reducing the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere can have a quick impact on global warming.

Human-caused methane emissions are growing at an alarming rate. Data released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2021 shows global methane emissions surged in 2020.

Several recent analyses demonstrate the immense potential of the methane pledge to slow warming. In May 2021, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environment Programme released the Global Methane Assessment, a landmark report that describes how reducing methane can change the climate trajectory within the next 20 years. A 30% cut in methane emissions could reduce projected warming by 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 F), according to European Union estimates.

For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intends to limit the methane produced by roughly one million existing oil and gas rigs across the U.S. The strengthening of methane pollution standards would help reduce air pollution and protect communities, many of whom are communities of color that live near methane-producing facilities.

This effort to reduce methane pollution buys some time while countries are lowering their harder-to-cut carbon dioxide emissions, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the carbon dioxide efforts should slow down.

The second announcement at the U.N. climate summit on Nov. 10 was also made by six major automakers including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo, as well as 30 national governments. They pledged to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”

This announcement was another sign that the days of the internal combustion engine could soon be numbered. Electric vehicles continue to set new global sales records each year, and major car companies have recently begun investing tens of billions of dollars to retool their factories and churn out electric vehicles.

Two dozen vehicle fleet operators, including Uber and LeasePlan, also joined the coalition, vowing to operate only zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, “or earlier where markets allow.”

Worldwide transportation accounts for roughly one-fifth of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions that are responsible for climate change, with a little less than half of that coming from passenger vehicles such as cars and vans. In recent years, governments around the world — including China, the United States and the European Union — have begun heavily subsidizing electric vehicles.

Some of the major automakers that did not sign the agreement are nonetheless investing heavily in electric vehicle technology. Volkswagen has outlined plans to spend tens of billions of dollars to build six battery factories.

These significant steps will, if implemented, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and consequently help limit heat rise by no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade and will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Both the reduction of methane as well as phasing out gas-powered vehicles will only occur if individuals, cities and states step up to help these measures become realities.

These climate actions are ethical steps that will help protect our grandchildren from facing major climate disasters.

Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Yarmouth. He attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

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