Richard Killmer: Glasgow announcements could help protect grandchildren from facing major climate disasters

·4 min read

Two significant announcements at the UN climate summit in Glasgow will likely play a huge role as the nations of the world make the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions they promised by 2030. Both could help protect the world our grandchildren will inhabit by achieving the Paris climate agreement goals of keeping the rise in global warming under 1.5 degrees Centigrade and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

First, more than 100 countries agreed to cut their methane emissions 30% by 2030 under the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative launched by the U.S. and European Union.

Richard Killmer
Richard Killmer

Methane is about 84 times more powerful at warming the climate than carbon dioxide over the short-term. Since it only stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years, compared to hundreds of years for carbon dioxide, reducing the amount of methane emitted into the atmosphere can have a quick impact on global warming.

Human-caused methane emissions are growing at an alarming rate. Data released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2021 shows global methane emissions surged in 2020.

Several recent analyses demonstrate the immense potential of the methane pledge to slow warming. In May, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the U.N. Environment Programme released the Global Methane Assessment, a landmark report that describes how reducing methane can change the climate trajectory within the next 20 years. A 30% cut in methane emissions could reduce projected warming by 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 F), according to European Union estimates.

For the first time, the U.S. EPA intends to limit the methane produced by roughly 1 million existing oil and gas rigs across the U.S. The strengthening of methane pollution standards would help reduce air pollution and protect communities, many of whom are communities of color that live near methane-producing facilities.

This effort to reduce methane pollution buys some time while countries are lowering their harder-to-cut carbon dioxide emissions, but it certainly doesn’t mean the carbon dioxide efforts should slow down.

The second announcement was also made by six major automakers including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo and 30 national governments. They pledged to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”

This announcement was another sign the days of the internal combustion engine could soon be numbered. Electric vehicles continue to set new global sales records each year and major car companies have begun investing tens of billions of dollars to retool their factories and churn out electric vehicles.

The 30 countries that joined the coalition included Britain, Canada, India and Poland. The addition of India was especially notable, since it is the world’s fourth-largest auto market and has not previously committed to eliminating emissions from its cars on a specific timeline.

California, New York State and Washington State also signed the pledge. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order saying only new zero-emissions vehicles would be sold in the state after 2035. The agreement states automakers will “work toward reaching 100 percent zero-emission new car and van sales in leading markets by 2035 or earlier.”

Two dozen vehicle fleet operators, including Uber and LeasePlan, also joined the coalition, vowing to operate only zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, “or earlier where markets allow.”

Worldwide transportation accounts for roughly one-fifth of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change, with a little less than half of that coming from passenger vehicles such as cars and vans. In recent years, governments around the world — including China, the U.S. and European Union — have begun heavily subsidizing electric vehicles and imposing more stringent emissions standards on new gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars.

Some of the major automakers that did not sign the agreement are nonetheless investing heavily in electric vehicle technology. Volkswagen outlined plans to spend tens of billions to build six battery factories, install a global network of charging stations and roll out more than 80 new electric models by 2025.

These significant steps will, if implemented, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and consequently help limit heat rise by no more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade and will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Both the reduction of methane as well as phasing out gas-powered vehicles will only occur if individuals, cities and states step up to help these measure become realities.

These climate actions are ethical steps that will help protect our grandchildren from facing major climate disasters.

— Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister living in East Grand Rapids. He attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Richard Killmer: Glasgow announcements could help protect grandchildren from climate disasters