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Experts say pledges at COP26 won't be enough to stop extreme climate change


Well, one of the key reasons President Biden made Glasgow a priority is he wants to show the international community the U.S. is eager to cooperate on fighting for the planet's future. Today he joined countries pledging to fight deforestation and to cut the greenhouse gas methane. But environmental experts say those efforts still don't go far enough to stop extreme climate change. Joining us with more details is NPR's Lauren Sommer.

Hey there, Lauren.


KELLY: All right. So Biden was focused on unity, unity, unity, unity today. What is he pledging that the U.S. is going to do?

SOMMER: Yeah. So the U.S. joined a global pact to reduce methane emissions. You know, we talk a lot about carbon dioxide emissions, but methane is another important greenhouse gas, and it's a supercharged one. It's got about 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide when it's first in the atmosphere, and it comes from a number of sources. It's emitted from landfills, from livestock, and it leaks from oil and gas wells. So now more than 100 countries are pledging to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030.

KELLY: By 2030 - right. Well, we were discussing this elsewhere on the show today with the head of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, which is putting out new rules for the U.S. on methane. Tell us more about what they're going to be.

SOMMER: Yeah. The main focus is really oil and gas wells because methane is the main ingredient of natural gas, and it leaks from wells and pipelines. Congress recently restored these Obama-era rules that limit methane for new oil and gas production. But Biden's announcement today substantially expands that because it covers existing oil and gas wells. And, you know, as he's done this whole summit, he tied it to creating jobs.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This isn't just something we have to do to protect the environment and our future. It's an enormous opportunity for all of us, all of our nations to create jobs and make meeting climate goals a core part of our global economic recovery as well.

SOMMER: And he encouraged other countries to join as well. You know, as Franco said, you know, China and Russia were not there and were major emitters of methane and haven't signed on.

KELLY: Have not signed on. The other big theme from the climate summit today - forests. What did countries agree to on that?

SOMMER: Yeah. So more than 100 countries also pledged to stop deforestation by 2030, and that included Brazil and Russia - you know, these key countries with massive forests. Part of the focus of that is also helping Indigenous communities who depend on those forests. And trees are really a crucial part of slowing climate change. They're basically these sponges for carbon dioxide, and when they're cut down, they're not doing that job anymore. So for countries like Brazil, where there's really been a dramatic loss of the Amazon rainforest, that land change is actually their main source of greenhouse gas emissions, not fossil fuels. So on paper, at least, the U.S. and other countries are committing to kind of stopping that trend.

KELLY: On paper - right? - these are pledges that countries are making. They are not necessarily binding. So what are the chances that we are actually going to see follow through?

SOMMER: Yeah. I mean, countries have made pledges that are very similar before this. Back in 2014, there was a pledge among a smaller group to cut deforestation in half by 2020. Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, says it really didn't do much.

FRANCES SEYMOUR: Not only was deforestation not cut in half. It actually kept going up. And I think what's slightly different this time around is the inclusiveness in terms of the countries involved - so significant that Brazil, China, many others have signed up.

SOMMER: You know, and that's the challenge for this entire climate summit. You know, most countries still aren't meeting the pledges they made to cut emissions back at the 2015 Paris negotiations.

KELLY: Right.

SOMMER: And the commitments they're making at this summit - they don't go far enough to keep the world at this crucial threshold for warming - that's that 1.5 degrees Celsius - because the science shows beyond that, you know, heatwaves and storms and flooding get substantially more dangerous. So the best hope for this summit at this point is just to try to edge closer to that goal so it's within reach, maybe, down the line.

KELLY: NPR climate correspondent Lauren Sommer.

Thank you, Lauren.

SOMMER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Sommer
Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.