US announces crackdown on ‘super pollutant’ methane

Carbon dioxide is the big climate villain but its lesser-known cousin methane is also a powerful planet-heating pollutant.

The US has announced a major crackdown on methane emissions as part of a new effort to curb a “super pollutant” that is turbocharging the climate crisis, my colleagues Oliver Milman, Damian Carrington and Fiona Harvey report from Dubai.

The new rules are the centrepiece of global announcements to cut methane emissions at Cop28. The US estimates they will cut methane emissions from its vast oil and gas industry by 80% from levels that would be expected without the rule – a total of 58m tonnes by 2038.

Key events

Far from the suits and jargon of the climate summit – but still tightly linked – the fight for environmental justice continues in a very different form.

Authorities in Honduras have issued an arrest warrant for the alleged mastermind in the case of the murdered Indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres, writes my colleague Nina Lakhani.

Cáceres was gunned down in her home by hired hitmen in March 2016, in retaliation for leading a grassroots campaign to stop construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam on a river considered sacred by the Lenca people. Cáceres was assassinated less than a year after being awarded the prestigious Goldman prize for environmental defenders.

Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for those defending rivers, land and other natural resources against corporate greed, pollution, and extractive industries like mining and energy projects. Honduras, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia are among the most deadly countries in Latin America, and Indigenous people in particular are on the frontlines of fighting environmental destruction and the climate crisis.

Earlier this week, environmental defender and Indigenous leader Quinto Inuma Alvarado was shot dead by hooded men in response to his work defending his land from illegal logging and drug trafficking in the San Martín region of Peru. Quinto had spent years working to achieve collective titling for his community, which would allow them to effectively protect their land and forests of the Peruvian Amazon.

Indigenous environmental defenders like Caceres and Quinto risk their lives to protect the environment and address the climate crisis, yet they lack ‘adequate protection and are excluded from decision making’, according to a Global Witness report from 2022.

Indigenous delegates at Cop often struggle to get a seat at the negotiating table, and have long complained that their traditional knowledge and sustainable solutions are not taken seriously.

Read more on the Cáceres case here:

The climate campaigner Mohamed Adow has called for a focus on the negotiations at Cop28 rather than the announcements that surround it.

We need to remember #COP28 is not a trade show & a press conference. It’s an international negotiation & that is still the most important part.

— Mohamed Adow (@mohadow) December 2, 2023

The flurry of announcements was largely to be welcomed, said Adow, who runs the climate thinktank Power Shift Africa, but that “the talks are why we are here.”

Journalists are not allowed in the negotiating rooms where diplomats hash out agreements under the eye of the UN. Much of the media coverage instead centres around commitments that governments and companies make outside of the formal negotiating process.

“Getting an agreed fossil fuel phase-out date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit,” said Adow. “We need a fair, fast, full and funded fossil phase-out.”

US announces crackdown on ‘super pollutant’ methane

Carbon dioxide is the big climate villain but its lesser-known cousin methane is also a powerful planet-heating pollutant.

The US has announced a major crackdown on methane emissions as part of a new effort to curb a “super pollutant” that is turbocharging the climate crisis, my colleagues Oliver Milman, Damian Carrington and Fiona Harvey report from Dubai.

The new rules are the centrepiece of global announcements to cut methane emissions at Cop28. The US estimates they will cut methane emissions from its vast oil and gas industry by 80% from levels that would be expected without the rule – a total of 58m tonnes by 2038.

Analysts have praised a “crucial” commitment from 118 governments to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements by the end of the decade.

According to the clean energy thinktank Ember, the two actions alone can deliver 85% of the fossil fuel reductions needed by 2030 to keep the planet from heating 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures – if governments deliver on them.

Dave Jones, an analyst at Ember, said: “Together, these would unlock deep economy-wide fossil fuel reductions and ensure that oil, coal and gas demand not only peak this decade but see a meaningful fall. This statement is not a substitute for a global agreement, but it does pave the way for a historic opportunity to include this in the final text.”

Helena Horton

Helena Horton

The chief executive of ExxonMobil has made some eyebrow-raising comments in an interview with the Financial Times, claiming the summit focuses too much on renewable energy. It is the first time an Exxon chief has attended a Cop.

Darren Woods has complained that talks at Cop28 have not prioritised hydrogen, biofuels and carbon capture. These are technologies favoured by the oil and gas industry as they allow for fossil fuels and their associated infrastructure to be used for longer during the green transition.

He told the newspaper: “The transition is not limited to just wind, solar and EVs. Carbon capture is going to play a role. We’re good at that. We know how to do it, we can contribute. Hydrogen will play a role. Biofuels will play a role.”

The oil and gas industry is hoping that governments will invest in carbon capture and storage to nullify emissions from fossil fuel plants. However, the technology’s effectiveness is disputed and scientists are sceptical of its role outside of heavy industries that have few alternatives.

Some have also criticised the presence of oil and gas industry executives at the conference, arguing the point of their attendance is to delay action and greenwash their operations.

Woods also told the FT that the talks “put way too much emphasis on getting rid of fossil fuels, oil and gas, and not . . . on dealing with the emissions associated with them”, adding there would be “continued demand” for oil and gas.

The Guardian this year revealed the oil company privately “predicted global warming correctly and skilfully” only to then spend decades publicly rubbishing such science in order to protect its core business.

Tomorrow will be health day at Cop28, with various reports and declarations expected. Among them, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the continent’s main public health body, said more funding was needed to tackle health crises in Africa.

Jean Kaseya, head of the Africa CDC, said the continent has had 158 disease outbreaks already this year, following on closely from the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the climate crisis is a leading cause of them.

“Each outbreak we miss can become a pandemic – and that is the major concern we have today. We don’t want the next pandemic to come from Africa due to climate change. This is why we are pushing for more funding,” he said.

“When we had Covid, we discovered that Africa was abandoned. We saw we were not independent. Africa begged the world to get even masks and gloves.”

Isabel Choat has the full story:

Helena Horton

Helena Horton

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak jetted home from Dubai last night after spending just eight hours in Dubai, but his energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, remains at the summit and today will announce plans to protect global rainforests and cut methane emissions.

She will tell the summit that the UK is to commit more than £85 million in funding for climate initiatives and will sign new clean energy agreements with international partners, including Brazil, the US and countries across Europe.

Part of the funding includes up to £35 million to protect the Amazon rainforest through Brazil’s dedicated Amazon fund, agreed on Friday, on top of £80m announced by Sunak earlier this year.

Coutinho said: “The UK is a world leader in the drive to net zero, so it is vital we support our international allies like Brazil in meeting their climate ambitions.

“That’s why we have pledged up to £35 million to help stop deforestation in the Amazon, making the UK one of the largest contributors to the Amazon fund.

“We will also partner with Brazil at Cop28 and draw on our combined strengths to develop alternative fuels like hydrogen, advance green technologies and drive global action to cut emissions.”

Jonathan Watts

Jonathan Watts

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has roared into Cop28 with a mega-delegation of more than 2,000 people and grand ambitions to address inequality and protect the world’s tropical forests.

Lula, as he is known, said his country was leading by example: “We have adjusted our climate goals, which are now more ambitious than those of many developed countries. We have drastically reduced deforestation in the Amazon and will bring it to zero by 2030,” he said.

But any pretensions he might have had to broader climate leadership on cutting fossil fuels were weakened on Thursday when his energy minister, Alexandre Silveira, chose the opening of the planet’s biggest environmental conference as the moment to announce that Brazil plans to align itself more closely with the world’s biggest oil cartel, Opec.

Brazilian climate campaigners said the timing and symbolism were horrendous and a sign of the divisions within a country that has made huge strides to reduce deforestation of the Amazon, even as it has ploughed ahead with oil exploration in ecologically sensitive areas.

“This statement is a scandal. Celebrating entry into the oil club in the middle of a climate conference is as if the minister of mines and energy were disavowing President Lula’s own environmental speech,” said Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory. “With ministers like this, the president doesn’t need enemies.”

Climate campaigners have praised the Czech Republic’s decision to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which leaves only a handful of European countries including Poland and Bulgaria outside the group.

Alexandru Mustață, campaigner at Beyond Fossil Fuels, said: “The Czech Republic stood alongside Germany and Poland as one of the three big coal laggards in the EU. Today’s announcement shows that like most European nations, it is looking to a future beyond coal that is more secure, more economic, and above all: more sustainable.”

The country has committed to quit coal by 2033 but has been slower to invest in renewable energy than many of its neighbours. To keep the planet heating 1.5C, the International Energy Agency has called on rich countries to stop burning coal to make electricity by 2030, and for the rest of the world to follow suit by 2040.

UN’s top doctor compares burning fossil fuels to smoking cigarettes

Patrick Greenfield

Patrick Greenfield

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, has compared fossil fuels to tobacco while speaking at an event in support of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

“During my visit to Tuvalu in 2019, I had the privilege of meeting a remarkable young boy named Falu,” he said. “He shared with me the conversations he had with his friends about the potential sinking of Tuvalu and the uncertain future. Some of his friends contemplated leaving in case it sinks. They were specific: seeking refuge in Fiji. While others express their willingness to stay, these are 10 or 11 year old children saying this.

“Falu’s words deeply affected me, serving as a poignant reminder of the challenges children face in the Pacific. They worry about the survival of their island home due to the emissions produced by distant nations. This reality hangs on their shoulders.

“Addressing climate change necessitates addressing the role of fossil fuels, much as we cannot address lung cancer without addressing the impact of tobacco.

“Without addressing 75% of emissions, achieving [the target of remaining with 1.5C (2.7F) of preindustrial levels] doesn’t happen. It will not happen. Debating the same issue – which is obvious – and fighting this issue over and over means we just stay in the same place. This has to stop. The science is there, the evidence is clear. We know the problem and we know the solution. The solution is also clear.

“In full support for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, the WHO stands with you. I will continue to champion you.

“The objectives outlined in the proposed treaty are clear, evidence based and equitable. We had a duty to address the homes of children like Falu. Please, let’s allow them to be children.”

Patrick Greenfield

Patrick Greenfield

Kausea Natano, prime minister of Tuvalu, has been speaking at an event calling for the creation of a fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty. Tuvalu was among a group of Pacific island states who launched the initiative earlier this year. The treaty is akin to similar initiatives on reducing nuclear arsenals and landmines.

He told the event: “Every year, our countries travel for days to travel for Cop. We spent the majority of the year preparing for these negotiations.

“Climate change is the single greatest threat to humanity. Yet, every year, we find ourselves debating the same issues and fighting the same battles. The science is clear: In order to keep 1.5C alive, we must take urgent action to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The pacific sits in the front line of climate change with worsening climate damage.

“Today, on behalf of the people of Tuvalu, I come to deliver a simple message to save our people from the devastating impacts of climate change. This Cop28 must produce a decision that addresses the root cause of emission. It must include clear language of phasing out fossil fuels. We no longer have time to sit by while our islands sink, while our forests burn and while our people suffer.

“The Paris agreement establishes the regime of nationally determined contributions, allowing countries to chart their own path forward. We cannot lower emissions if keep growing the problem. At present, the phase out of fossil fuels is largely unmanaged. We must take steps to ensure a just and credible transition.

“Many think this is to be an impossible task. That it is either too ambitious or too late but let me remind you of the achievement we have already accomplished. The choice of either being ambitious or realistic is a false choice; we must choose to be both.”

Hello, this is Ajit Niranjan taking over from Alan Evans for the day. You can reach me at, or on X (formerly Twitter) at @NiranjanAjit. Whether you’re on the ground or following from afar, please get in touch!

Activists have called on rich countries to put 5% of their military budgets into climate finance, my colleague Dharna Noor writes.

By diverting just 5% of global military budgets, the world could raise $110.4bn for climate finance – more than enough to meet a repeatedly broken annual climate finance target of $100bn, according to the Transnational Institute, an international research and advocacy group.

“Money is being spent on militarisation rather than on climate action,” said Nick Buxton, a researcher with the Transnational Institute, “though the climate crisis is the biggest [common] security threat that we face today.”

The world’s militaries produce at least 5.5% of greenhouse gas emissions – more than the total footprint of Japan – according to one 2022 estimate. But no country is required to provide data on military emissions thanks to successful lobbying by the US at the Kyoto conference in 1997. Leaders removed the exemption in 2015 but made reporting military emissions optional.

Tomorrow there will be a special-themed day on “relief, recovery, and peace” at the conference, the first time climate-fuelled conflict has ever been on an international climate conference agenda.

Read more here:

Damian Carrington

Damian Carrington

Turkmenistan joined the Global Methane Pledge today, an important move for the world’s fourth largest methane emitter. The pledge requires a leak reduction of 30% by 2030. The potent greenhouse gas is responsible for a third of the global heating driving the climate crisis today.

The Guardian revealed Turkmenistan’s “mind boggling” methane emissions in May, a development sources said was instrumental in pushing the country to act. The country’s super-emitting leaks are seen as some of the easiest to fix by repairing ageing gas infrastructure.

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