Cop28 hailed for net-zero methane breakthrough

Energy body headed by Adair Turner concludes benefits from methane pledge would lead to faster reductions in build-up of global warming gases

Adair Turner, chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission, participates in a panel at the Cop28 climate summit. AP
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Cop28 has won praise from one of the leading international climate coalitions for a groundbreaking focus on methane after a presidency declaration that targets a third of historic global warming greenhouse gases.

Adair Turner, the head of the Energy Transitions Commission, told The National the declaration on methane was a key move towards avoiding a tipping point for a planet that is struggling to hit a global warming target of 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

The Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter launched at Cop28 brought together 50 of the biggest producers, representing more than 40 per cent of global oil output, to commit to net zero by 2050 by eliminating methane emissions and routine flaring by 2030.

Mr Turner, a former financial regulator in the UK, said the methane undertakings dealt with a “hugely powerful” greenhouse gas that makes up about a third of global warming.

Because it is shorter lived in the atmosphere than carbon, cutting its output pushes down the overall greenhouse gas concentrations more quickly.

“The great news is if you stop putting methane up in the atmosphere, you reduce the concentrations quickly, and you therefore reduce global warming about a third – about a third of all global warming since pre-industrial levels had been produced by increase in methane flow, rather than an increase in CO2 [carbon dioxide] stock,” he told The National on the sidelines of Climate Action’s Sustainable Innovation Forum.

Experience suggested that the companies coming forward, including the UAE’s Adnoc and Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, would use their involvement to join the seven international majors that were accounting for what the UN calls Scope 3 emissions that happen when the product is sold.

While the agreement is only one part of the UN-led climate change summit, it is expected to be consequential.

“It is not sufficient in itself,” he said. “You can’t say because of that Cop28 is a success. It is hugely positive that a wider number of oil companies, including – really, for the first time – national oil companies, are making [these] commitments.”

From the opening days of summit, Mr Turner said it was clear the meeting was focused on how to make concrete promises to action.

“How do we specifically get there, limit methane, tripling of renewables and double energy efficiency. That’s what going on here.”

A report from Mr Adair’s Energy Commission said progress in clear energy technologies since 2020 was such that significant reductions in all the major categories of fossil fuels was possible by 2050, including a 75 per cent or more drop in oil consumed.

This would be driven by road transport, shipping and aviation, as well as changes in industrial processes.

Julien Perez of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which has campaigned for oil industry involvement in decarbonisation, said the first-time declaration was a step forward in itself.

“You have a number of agencies that have never checked in on climate change at all,” he said. “Never said anything – not on greenhouse gas emissions, not on the target – and most of them now are checking in.

“You have to realise that they start from zero,” he said. “I'm pretty certain that this industry, when they get in motion, can bring significant skills and some solutions when it comes to renewables, hydrogen, biofuels and EV charging points.”

Updated: December 05, 2023, 11:25 AM