UN chief urges energy industry to do more despite methane agreement

UN secretary general, António Guterres, has said the world’s energy firms are still not doing enough to support the world’s efforts to limit global warming.

He made his remarks following the announcement at the COP28 summit that 50 major energy firms have signed up to a new scheme which will end methane emissions by 2027.

The pledge was part of the Global Decarbonization Accelerator (GDA), a series of landmark initiatives designed to speed up the energy transition and drastically reduce global emissions.

The GDA is focused on three key pillars: rapidly scaling the energy system of tomorrow; decarbonizing the energy system of today; and targeting methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs). It is a comprehensive plan for system wide change, addressing the demand and the supply of energy at the same time. The GDA has been informed by the thinking of key stakeholders, including the international organisations, governments and policy makers, NGOs, and CEOs from every industrial sector.

Under the GDA, 50 companies, representing over 40 percent of global oil production have signed on to the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter (OGDC), committing to zero methane emissions and ending routine flaring by 2030, and to total net-zero operations by 2050 at the latest. Over 29 National Oil Companies (NOCs) have committed to the Charter – the largest ever number of NOCs to sign up to a decarbonization pledge. The OGDC is an important step towards the industry increasing actions aligned with the aims of the Paris Agreement.

Signatories to the Charter agree to target a number of key actions, including:

  • Investing in the energy system of the future including renewables, low-carbon fuels and negative emissions technologies.
  • Increasing transparency, including enhancing measurement, monitoring, reporting and independent verification of GHG emissions and their performance and progress in reducing emissions.
  • Increasing alignment with broader industry best practices to accelerate decarbonization of operations and aspire to implement current best practices by 2030 to collectively reduce emission intensity.
  • Reducing energy poverty and providing secure and affordable energy to support the development of all economies.

Commentating on the launch of the GDA, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber said: “The world does not work without energy. Yet the world will break down if we do not fix energies we use today, mitigate their emissions at a gigaton scale, and rapidly transition to zero carbon alternatives. That is why the COP28 Presidency has launched the Global Decarbonization Accelerator.”

However for the UN chief the pledge did not go far enough.

Guterres said: “The fossil fuel industry is finally starting to wake up, but the promises made clearly fall short of what is required.”

He added it is a “step in the right direction”, but the promise failed to address a core issue, namely, eliminating emissions from fossil fuel consumption.

Methane (CH4) is a primary component of natural gas and is responsible for about a third of the planetary warming we see today. It is short-lived but is more powerful than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for climate change. Without serious action, global anthropogenic methane emissions are projected to rise by up to 13 per cent between now and 2030.

Dubbing the oil and gas companies, the “giant behind the climate crisis”, Guterres pointed out that the pledge did not provide clarity on the pathway to reaching net-zero by 2050, which is “absolutely essential to ensure integrity.”

“Science is clear: we need to phase out fossil fuels within a timeframe compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius,” he reiterated, referring to one of the keystone targets set by the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement,” he added. “There must be no room for greenwashing,” he said, referring to the dangers involved in promoting deceptive marketing and false claims of sustainability.

However, Al Jaber praised the agreement as a leap forward in the world’s efforts.

He said, “The GDA represents an inflection point for addressing various challenges that to date have slowed down the energy transition. Each initiative is underpinned by ongoing accountability frameworks to ensure that the commitments made, are commitments delivered.”

“The GDA adds up to more countries and more companies from more sectors than ever before, all aligning with our North Star of 1.5C,” he added.

The GDA is focused on three key pillars: rapidly scaling the energy system of tomorrow; decarbonizing the energy system of today; and targeting methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs). It is a comprehensive plan for system wide change, addressing the demand and the supply of energy at the same time.

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