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Here's what happened on Friday at the U.N.'s COP27 climate talks

President Joe Biden arrives to speak at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Alex Brandon
President Joe Biden arrives to speak at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

International climate negotiations are nearing their halfway point in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Today President Joe Biden made a speech and the United States announced a new proposal to clamp down on pollution from oil and gas operations. And there were some notable absences from the summit as well.

Here's what you need to know.

President Biden spent about 3 hours at the summit

President Biden arrived in Egypt today, made a speech and then left for G20 talks in Bali, where he will meet face-to-face with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In his speech, Biden said the United States is following through on promises to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're proving that good climate policy is good economic policy," President Biden told a room of representatives of governments around the world. "The United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030."

The U.S. has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 50 and 52% by 2030. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which incentivizes electric cars and more efficient buildings, was a major step toward hitting that goal. Still, more will need to be done. Currently, U.S. emissions are expected to fall roughly 39% by 2030.

This year, U.S. emissions are projected to rise slightly.

Read more about the President's speech here.

Top leaders from China and India are not at COP27

China emits more greenhouse gas pollution than any other country. The United States is in second place. Meanwhile, India's emissions are rising quickly, and the country is now virtually tied with the European Union as the third largest emitter, according to a report released today by the Global Carbon Project.

But the presidents of China and India are skipping this year's climate talks. That makes it unlikely that either country will announce any major plans to cut emissions beyond their current promises.

Representatives from China reiterated the country's goals at the talks today: emissions will rise until 2030, then start falling until reaching net-zero in 2060. It's been rated "highly insufficient" by the Climate Action Tracker, a site that weighs how countries should be cutting emissions relative to their overall toll on the climate.

Moving on methane

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to tighten regulations for emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The agency says its proposal for reducing pollution from oil and gas wells would encourage the use of innovative technology to detect methane emissions. It estimates the proposed rule would reduce methane emissions from covered sources by 87% below 2005 levels by 2030.

"Oil and natural gas operations are the nation's largest industrial source of methane," the EPA said in a statement. "Sharp cuts in methane emissions are among the most critical actions the U.S. can take in the short term to slow the rate of climate change."

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, called on the EPA to "move full speed ahead" to finalize the proposed regulation.

"This proposed rule is a positive step forward," said Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association. Oil and gas companies should have to take the "strongest steps possible" to prevent methane leaks and to stop routine flaring — or burning — of the gas, Wimmer said, adding that people who live near oil and gas wells face "disproportionate health risks."

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, said it will push for a final rule that is "cost-effective, promotes innovation, and creates the regulatory certainty needed for long-term planning."

The White House also announced an initiative with the European Union, the UK, Japan, Canada and Norway to minimize flaring, methane and carbon dioxide emissions from the fossil fuel industry "to the fullest extent practicable."

And the U.N. said it launched the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), which will detect and report when major emissions happen.

"We are seeing methane emissions increase at an accelerated rate," said Kelly Levin of the Bezos Earth Fund, which helped fund the MARS system. "With this initiative, armed with greater data and transparency, companies and governments can make greater strides to reduce methane emissions and civil society can keep them accountable to their promises."

Don't forget, global emissions are still moving the wrong direction

The underlying tension behind the COP27 summit is a simple one: emissions are still rising too fast and countries have not pledged to do enough. A new report from the Global Carbon Project highlighted that today. It says emissions from burning fossil fuels are expected to reach record levels this year, more than 50% higher than they were when the Industrial Revolution began.

If emissions continue at the current pace, the world risks overshooting its goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees in just nine years.

"We're dangerously close to 1.5 Celsius thresholds," says Rob Jackson, climate scientist at Stanford University who worked on the report, which was compiled by scientists around the globe.

The pandemic is still having ripple effects on global emissions. In 2020, emissions dropped about 5% as flights were grounded and factories closed down but they came roaring back the following year. Still, emissions in China are expected to decline by about 1% this year, since the country has still implemented Covid measures and development hasn't fully rebounded.

In the years to come, China's emissions could rise again. Combined with other countries, that would mean the world still hasn't turned the corner on finally getting emissions to drop.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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.
Michael Copley
Michael Copley is a correspondent on NPR's Climate Desk. He covers what corporations are and are not doing in response to climate change, and how they're being impacted by rising temperatures.