COP26: Biden plans to quickly clamp down on methane emissions in the US

Abandoned oil wells are still pumping methane into the air Credit: AP

Much of the talk at COP26 involves plans which may take generations to deliver benefits.

Today President Biden is announcing proposals which, should they come to pass, have the potential to make an impact much quicker.

The target is methane; a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to raising global temperatures.

The thing about methane is it only takes about a decade to reverse its harmful impacts, much quicker than carbon dioxide.

Today’s proposals aim to significantly reduce emissions by reducing leaks from all oil and gas rigs both in use and abandoned - in equivalent carbon dioxide terms that is equal to all the CO2 produced by America’s vehicles and planes in 2019.

ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy visits a disused oilfield in Montana in July to see how they were still contributing to the climate crisis

Earlier this year I saw a small part of America’s big methane problem. We filmed in Montana home to some of America’s most beautiful prairies and mountains. Everything about the place said clean air, clean living and environmental respect.

Yet dotted across the rolling fields were nodding donkeys, the rigs some dating back almost a century, from the oil and gas industry which brought the United States such affluence.

The wells beneath the rigs are the problem.

They are “Orphaned”, in other words no longer anyone’s responsibility, quietly pumping out methane equivalent to thousands of cars revving around those green fields.

In Montana we spoke with Curtis Shuck, a former oil and gas executive, now trying to clean up after the industry he worked in for five decades. His work to cap abandoned mines is just the sort of action the President is laying out today.

The COP27 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP27? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP27 is the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP27:

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is attending the conference, after initially saying he wouldn't as he was too busy focusing on the economy within his first weeks in office.

  • US President Joe Biden and his experienced climate envoy, John Kerry, will appear at the talks.

  • France President Emmanuel Macron will also be among the heads of state from around the world staying in Egypt.

King Charles III will not be attending COP27, despite being a staunch advocate for the environment. The decision was made jointly by Buckingham Palace and former prime minister Liz Truss.

Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will not attend the talks just as they decided to do for COP26.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Ensure full implementation of the Paris Agreement and putting negotiations into concrete actions - included within this is the target of limiting global warming to well below 2C.

2. Cementing progress on the critical workstreams of mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage, while stepping up finance notably to tackle the impacts of climate change.

3. Enhancing the delivery of the principles of transparency and accountability throughout the UN Climate Change process.

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Shuck’s Well Done Foundation is small scale, but aims to tackle emissions one well at a time.

He and his team of roughnecks, who have drilled all their lives, are part of the effort to tidy up after those who went before, in the hope of leaving something better for those who will come after.

He says he’s not out to atone for a life spent in the business but says: “You should leave places in a better state than when you found them. That’s not happened here."

That’s not a view shared by all in the business, as cost and climate clash once more.

The President will today seek to fight against that mind-set and sell cleaning up as cost-effective.

Not just to the planet but also in terms of the jobs and industry a move to cleaner energy will create.