WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden urged world leaders on Friday to join the United States and European Union in a pledge to cut methane emissions, hoping to build momentum before an international summit on climate change begins next month.

Biden held a virtual meeting of the Major Economies Forum (MEF), a follow-up to an Earth Day meeting he hosted in April to unveil new U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and press other countries to do more to curb theirs.

Tackling climate change is one of Biden's top domestic and international priorities, and the U.N. COP26 climate conference in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 is seen as a critical moment for the world to commit to doing more to halt rising temperatures.

The United Nations said on Thursday the pace of climate change had not been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the world was losing its battle to cut emissions enough to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Biden asked other nations Friday to join a pact agreed by the United States and the EU to aim to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030.

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"This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but ... it will also produce a very valuable side benefit like improving public health and agricultural output," Biden told the leaders.

"We believe the collective goal is both ambitious but realistic, and we urge you to join us in announcing this pledge at COP26," Biden said.

Globally, methane emissions are responsible for around 30% of warming since the pre-industrial era, according to the United Nations.

Leaders from Argentina, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Britain, and the European Union took part in the MEF, along with United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, the White House said.

The April summit included remarks from China's President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top world leaders.

Biden said he wanted to use the MEF to complement other climate change forums and his team, including climate envoy John Kerry, is working to push countries to set ambitious targets for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.

"Whatever commitments we make at COP26, we must all resolve together in Glasgow to continue strengthening our ambition and our actions ... to keep us ... below 1.5 degrees and keep that within reach," Biden said.

Leaders and activists warned of potentially disastrous consequences.

"Under current policies, we’ll reach almost 3 degrees of global warming by the end of the century," Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said, according to remarks released by his office. "The consequences of such an increase in global temperatures would be catastrophic."

Biden announced in April a new target to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50%-52% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Biden has been emphasizing climate change repeatedly in recent weeks in the wake of damage from devastating floods and wildfires across the United States.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Alexandra Alper; additional reporting by Valerie Volcivici and Crispian Balmer; editing by Richard Pullin, Heather Timmons and Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean)