A fiery methane flare rises near a well in the Bakken Oil Field.

Flames rise from a flaring pit near a well in the Bakken Oil Field. The primary component of natural gas is methane, which is odorless when it comes directly out of the gas well.

(Photo: Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images)

New IEA Warning on Methane Is All Biden Needs to Know to Declare Climate Emergency, Says Group

One campaigner said the IEA report "discredits any attempt to use methane reduction efforts as an excuse to further permit fossil fuel expansion."

As the International Energy Agency released a report warning that immediate cuts to methane gas pollution caused by fossil fuel production are critical for averting climate catastrophe, an environmental advocacy group on Wednesday said the IEA publication gives U.S. President Joe Biden "sufficient justification to declare a climate emergency."

The IEA report states that "immediate reductions in methane emissions are needed to limit warming to 1.5°C," the more ambitious objective of the Paris agreement.

Methane—which has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere—is emitted during the production and transportation of oil, gas, and coal, as well as from municipal landfills and livestock.

The report continues:

Rapid cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuels through targeted abatement measures—alongside deep cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions—are essential to achieve global climate targets. Without targeted action on methane, even with deep reductions in fossil fuel use, the increase in the global average surface temperature will likely exceed 1.6°C by 2050.

Responding to the report, Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental nonprofit, said in a statement that "the IEA says what Earthworks has long known: Preventing climate catastrophe requires the world to stop fossil fuel expansion and to do everything we can right now to cut methane gas pollution."

"In order to right historical injustices for those who have disproportionately experienced the harms of extraction—Indigenous and Black and Latino and poorer white communities in the U.S., specifically—we must aggressively and immediately cut pollution and manage the decline of the fossil fuel industry," she continued.

"This report discredits any attempt to use methane reduction efforts as an excuse to further permit fossil fuel expansion," Pagel added. "It also gives President Biden sufficient justification to declare a climate emergency and steer the U.S. toward a sustainable, just energy future."

Declaring a climate emergency unlocks certain executive powers that the Biden administration could use the battle the crisis without congressional action.

While Biden said in August that he has "practically" declared a climate emergency, campaigners note that his administration has approved more new permits for fossil fuel drilling on public lands during his first two years in office than former President Donald Trump did in 2017 and 2018.

The Biden administration has also held a massive fossil fuel lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, approved the highly controversial Willow project and Mountain Valley Pipeline, and increased liquefied natural gas production and export.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have also urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen and expand a draft rule on methane reduction. The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law by Biden last year provides hundreds of millions of dollars for reducing methane emissions.

On Wednesday, climate activists confronted U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg over his department's approval of the Sea Port and GulfLink oil terminals along the Texas Gulf Coast.

According to the new IEA report, the good news is that "more than 75% of methane emissions from oil and gas operations and half of emissions from coal today can be abated with existing technology, often at low cost. The oil and gas sector has the greatest share of ready-to-implement and cost-effective technical opportunities to reduce methane emissions."

However, as the IEA's Global Methane Tracker shows, the energy industry worldwide spewed 135 million tons of the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere last year, just short of a record set in 2019.

"Reducing methane emissions from the energy sector is one of the best—and most affordable—opportunities to limit global warming in the near term," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement. "Early actions by governments and industry to drive down methane emissions need to go hand-in-hand with reductions in fossil fuel demand and CO2 emissions."

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