Al Johnson-Kurts, 

Gabrielle Levy,

The U.S. is focused on reducing emissions intensity in its “major” methane deliverables at COP28, but phasing out fossil fuels is critical to staying under globally agreed temperature rise limits.

Dubai – Today at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), the U.S. government promoted its flawed plan to lead a global framework on the measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MMRV) of methane, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions from gas. 

In a panel discussion about U.S. efforts to reduce methane, Brad Crabtree, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, highlighted that the U.S. Department of Energy is spending at least $60 million dollars of taxpayer money per year helping fossil fuel companies develop ways to reduce their operational methane emissions. He cautioned that no matter how successful these efforts may be they will never achieve zero emissions. 

“Reducing pollution during their operations is something fossil fuel companies should have been doing for the last 100 years,” said Josh Eisenfeld, Corporate Accountability Campaign Manager at Earthworks. “This is not accelerating a transition. It’s just cleaning up what they should have cleaned up in the first place, but now they are getting taxpayer money to do it.”

The MMRV initiative, formally announced by the U.S. Department of Energy last month, would create a voluntary framework that, as currently envisioned, would not require fossil fuel companies to make or keep pledges to reduce overall production of oil and gas. As a result, the framework will be weaponized by the fossil fuel industry to justify increased production. The DOE acknowledges that the framework is aimed at privileging U.S. gas producers in the global gas market by positioning them as a cleaner alternative compared to other exporters. 

“As currently envisioned, the United States’ international initiative to reduce methane emissions is flawed because it would rely on unreliable, easily manipulated, opaque technologies that consistently miss the pollution they’re intended to monitor,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director, Oil Change International. “And even in a perfect world, where the U.S. MMRV initiative works flawlessly, it only focuses on fossil fuel companies’ emissions from operations, and would fail to reduce over 80% of fossil fuel companies’ emissions – which come from burning oil and gas.”


The Emirates’ “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter”

Initiatives like the MMRV framework could help provide cover for schemes like the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter (OGDC),” the industry’s flagship COP28 announcement. The OGDC is a voluntary pledge signed by 50 oil and gas firms, including ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco. The companies represent about 40% of global oil output, and commit to cut operational methane emissions to nearly zero by 2030 and eliminate all operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Commitments aren’t legally binding and only include scope 1 and 2 emissions (emissions from company operations)—and excludes scope 3 (emissions from when oil and gas is burned), which make up more than 80% the emissions from these companies.

More than 320 organizations signed an open letter rejecting the OGDC and calling for companies and countries to make genuine commitments to reduce production of oil and gas.

“The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter is a dangerous distraction from the COP28 process. We need legal agreements, not voluntary pledges,” said David Tong, Global Industry Campaign Manager, Oil Change International. “The science is clear: staying under 1.5ºC global warming requires a full, fast, fair, and funded phase out of fossil fuels, starting now.”

As countries move toward setting standards for methane emissions on imported oil and gas – like the European Union reached a deal to do last month – it is all the more critical that oil and gas companies’ claims can be rigorously, independently, and transparently verified. 


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Methane Rule

On Saturday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the long-awaited methane rule, which targets new and – for the first time – existing sources of methane emissions from oil and gas production, is a welcome step forward. While the new rule will help identify and reduce methane emissions, its enforcement is likely to rely heavily on unproven and/or unreliable technology.

Neither the EPA rule nor the U.S.’s other methane-focused actions address the primary cause of climate change: burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuel companies continue to expand oil and gas production, flying in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus that fossil fuels must be rapidly phased out. 

 A report from the International Energy Agency and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition recently made clear that policies focused on reducing oil and gas emissions – without reducing production overall – are dangerous distractions and ineffective climate policy. To keep warming to globally agreed limits, we need a fair, fast, and funded phase-out of fossil fuels. None of the methane actions announced so far by the U.S. – the world’s largest oil and gas producer – meet the bar.

“People around the world are counting on their leaders to protect communities from toxic pollution from oil and gas and reduce the threat of the impacts of runaway climate change,” said Gabrielle Levy, Associate Director of Methane Gas Communications at Climate Nexus. “It’s not enough to tinker around the edges. Eliminating methane pollution from oil and gas must be a priority for the U.S. and other nations at COP28, and that means taking concrete steps to cut those emissions at the source – by eliminating the source.”

“U.S. legal action to reduce methane emissions is a welcome step forward. The problem is that the new methane rule is a commitment to check for emissions four times per year and not to check the other 361 days of the year,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director, Oil Change International. The facts are clear: To keep global warming under internationally agreed limits, we need a fair, fast, and funded phase-out of fossil fuels. So far, none of the methane actions announced by the U.S. – the world’s largest oil and gas producer – meet the bar.”

“The Biden administration claims to be a climate and environmental justice leader but their actions help Big Oil greenwash their fossil fuel projects under the guise of a cleaner product. There is no such thing as clean fossil fuels,” said Kelsey Crane, Senior Policy Advocate at Earthworks. “If President Biden is serious about his promises to act on climate and protect environmental justice communities, he must follow the instructions of the IEA, the UN, and the people who have borne the brunt of the oil and gas industry’s pollution and safety violations for decades: stop the buildout of fossil fuel exports in the U.S.”