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EU targets energy sector in bid to reduce methane emissions

© Shutterstock / hkhtt hjMethane emissions.

EU Member States and the Commission have agreed to a proposal requiring the energy sector to accelerate its efforts on methane emissions reduction, as part of its ‘Fit for 55’ package. The bloc has yet to do the same with the agriculture sector, which is the largest emitter of anthropogenic methane.

  • EU Member States have proposed new rules to reduce the energy sector’s methane emissions, which cause global warming and air pollution.
  • Responsible for 19% of EU methane emissions, the energy sector has the highest potential for rapid, efficient, and cost-effective methane emissions reductions. 
  • The proposal may need to be expanded to include agriculture which, together with waste and biomass burning, accounts for 41% of the EU’s methane emissions.

New proposal targets energy sector which emits 19% of the EU’s methane

An agreement between the Member States and the Council proposes new rules to tackle the EU energy sector’s methane emissions. It would place new, more stringent requirements on the oil, gas and coal sectors to measure, report and verify (MRV) their methane emissions. 

The new rules would apply to all forms of energy infrastructure, including platforms, underground pipelines, or distribution networks. Operators would also have to document all sites, including wells and mines, trace their emissions, and ensure proper mitigation steps had been taken to prevent or minimise emissions.

The devil is likely to be in the details

The new rules relating to MRV will have to be checked by independent verifiers. The role of MRV has been established as a critical step in implementing effective climate action. The use of digital tools can add to the effectiveness of any MRV effort.

Reducing emissions will require mitigation plans for active sites and remediation plans for inactive or abandoned sites. For active sites, leak detection and repair will be mandatory, for example by venting and flaring at energy production plants.

Energy companies across the value chain will also be responsible for monitoring and tracing emissions from their fossil fuel imports. A need for transparency may require global monitoring tools to be used to track existing policies in countries of import.

Why are methane emissions being targeted?

Methane emissions are second to CO2 emissions among the four greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for global warming. While the level of methane emissions is about 15% that of CO2, it has a greater potential to trap heat, with a potential for global warming that is 84 times that of CO2 on a 20-year time scale.

According to the EU, human activity is the cause of 60% of global methane emissions. Of these activities agriculture and energy make up the bulk, with waste and biomass burning accounting for the rest.

Reducing methane emissions is one of the priorities of the European Green Deal, and hence is a priority in the EU’s Fit for 55 package.

Methane emissions reductions support the EU’s Fit for 55 package 

The Fit for 55 package intends to put together a set of proposals to update EU legislation to meet its climate goals. The main aim is to reduce GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030. The proposals cover several policy areas including the environment, energy, transport, and economic and financial affairs.

The proposals for methane removals were first presented in December 2021, and agreed to a year later.  The EU Parliament and the Council will now have to agree on the final text of the act, and once both legislative bodies have formally adopted it, the proposal will become law.

The EU’s efforts to reduce its methane emissions have included its signing of the Global Methane Pledge at COP26, wherein over 100 countries committed to a 30% reduction in their methane emissions by 2030, on 2020 levels. Prior to that, the EU had also set its Methane Strategy in 2020, which intended to focus on emissions reductions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors.

Tacking energy sector methane is a start, but ignores the elephant in the room

According to a report by NGO Changing Markets, the major countries that signed the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 are dragging their feet. Its report investigates the methane emissions of some of the largest meat and dairy-producing companies in the world, as 32% of anthropogenic methane emissions come from livestock agriculture.

Based on its findings, however, only one EU country, the Netherlands, had seen an increase in its methane emissions in the last ten years. Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland had achieved small reductions, albeit at a pace not in line with the pledge. France, the largest livestock methane emitter in the EU,  was the only country to have achieved a decrease of over 5%.

In tackling the methane emissions of the energy sector, the EU may be looking at another way to affect the transition to green energy. Meaningful methane emissions reduction, however, will only come from tackling the issue in the agriculture sector, and to a lesser extent in better waste management policies.

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