Bill Clinton: Methane capture could be ‘goldmine’ in global warming fight

By Alexander Ragir and Joao Oliveira
Bloomberg News

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged cities and the World Bank to work on curbing methane emissions from landfills and charcoal, saying those steps first would buy time in the fight against global warming.

Politicians may need years to work out a way to limit the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, and it would cheaper and quicker to focus on other gases first, Clinton said at the C40 meeting of mayors from the world’s largest cities in Sao Paulo today. Methane has 25 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide, also known as CO2.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick, at the same gathering, pledged to streamline the procedures cities follow to tap his institution for aid and expertise on environmental projects. The effort is aimed at opening up $6.4 billion earmarked by the bank for climate-relief projects, which Zoellick said could prompt $50 billion of investment from private banks and companies.

“The financing has not been available for these things because they have been looked at as eyesores, not goldmines,” Clinton, 64, said. “World Bank financing may give us the chance to do something historic.”

Methane gas is produced by household waste and livestock. It’s also released from degraded peat bogs and thawing permafrost. The gas is one of six covered by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which limits emissions in industrial nations through 2012. Charcoal, which is widely used for cooking in Africa, is also a source of methane emissions.

Landfill Methane

“The low hanging fruit is capturing greenhouse gases from landfills,” said David Cadman, a Vancouver council member and president of the Bonn-based Local Governments for Sustainability organization. “Landfill methane is a huge problem. We’re capturing it and pumping it into a power plant and using the energy for heat.”

The World Bank agreement with the C40 will give cities “one window” access to receive funding through climate investment funds, which they created three years ago, and in providing technical expertise for climate programs, Zoellick said.

“For too many people living in cities, frequent floods and landslides are already a fact of life,” Zoellick said. “Climate change will make this worse. We must put cities on the front line of the struggle to adapt.”

$10.6 Trillion

The C40 mayors represent a combined population of 297 million people, are responsible for emitting 2.9 billion tons of CO2 and have a total gross domestic product of $10.6 trillion, according to report by London-based consultancy Arup Ltd.

“You can get a loan to buy a boat or a car but not to retrofit your house for renewable energy,” said Portland, Oregon Mayor Sam Adams. “This is going to address the thing I see is holding us back.”

The World Bank will simplify the application process for financing for climate projects, which often face language and other barriers, said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who leads C40. The mayor is founder of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

“The intense burning of fossil fuels in the world’s cities not only contributes to climate change, it also clogs the streets, pollutes the air, and shortens the lives of their millions of residents,” Bloomberg said. “If we don´t stop right now polluting our world and continuing to spill greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the consequences may very well be irreversible.”

Public Health

Clinton said targeting methane and charcoal could make a “dramatic reduction” in greenhouse gases and “solve a public health problem.”

UN climate envoys meeting in Bonn next week are focusing on binding limits for CO2 emissions and other gases, an ambition Todd Stern, the U.S. climate negotiator, has said is out of reach for now.

“It’s very evident that the legislative body in the U.S. has disengaged,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary for the UN Convention on Climate Change, told a news conference at the Carbon Expo in Barcelona today.

At the mayors meeting in Sao Paulo, delegates focused on efficiency measures that would cut emissions more cheaply than shifting the fuel used by utilities away from coal and oil toward renewables such as wind and solar.

Clinton, whose foundation has been studying ways to combat global warming, said a $1 billion investment in a coal-fired plant in the U.S. would create 870 jobs. The same money would underpin 1,900 jobs for solar energy, 300 jobs for wind and 7,000 jobs in energy efficiency industries, he said.

The mayors also agreed to adopt a common way of measuring city greenhouse gas emissions, saying that will allow better monitoring and aid access to finance for projects that cut CO2.