Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas contributor to climate change following carbon dioxide. On a 100-year timescale, methane has 28 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide and is 84 times more potent on a 20-year timescale. Methane emissions are therefore highly relevant to 2050 climate objectives. Moreover, methane is a potent local air pollution and contributor to ozone formation, which itself causes serious health problems.
Approximately one third of global anthropogenic methane emissions come from the energy sector. The International Energy Agency estimates that 45% of those emissions can be mitigated at no net cost, given that methane is a saleable product in the form of natural gas. Reducing methane emissions associated with human activity by 50% over the next 30 years could mitigate global temperature change by 0.2°C by 2050, a significant step towards keeping temperature increase below 2°C.
Reducing methane emissions in the energy sector
As announced in the EU methane strategy, the Commission adopted on 15 December 2021 a proposal for a regulation aimed at reducing methane emission in the energy sector. This new legal act provides for
- improved measurement, reporting and verification of energy sector methane emissions
- immediate reduction of emissions through mandatory leak detection and repair and a ban on venting and flaring
The proposals on measurement and reporting of methane emissions, which build on the ‘Oil and gas methane programme’ (OGMP) framework, will help understand where exactly and how much methane is emitted. This translates into a stepwise shift from estimates to direct measurements, checked by independent verifiers. The urgency to tackle methane emissions is reflected in the proposals on mitigation that aim to deliver reductions soon after the legislation will enter into force.
For oil and gas, companies would need to frequently survey their equipment in order to detect leaks, and to repair them immediately, mostly within 5 or 15 working days and to monitor that repairs were successful. The proposal also bans venting and routine flaring, allowing venting only in exceptional or unavoidable circumstances for reasons of safety. It allows flaring only if re-injection, utilisation on-site or transport of the methane to a market are not technically feasible. Finally, it requires flaring to occur under conditions of complete combustion. For coal, the proposal envisages a phase out of venting and flaring of methane, ensuring that safety aspects in coal mines are accounted for. The proposal also obligates EU countries to establish mitigation plans in the case of abandoned coal mines and inactive oil and fossil gas wells.
EU methane strategy
Reducing methane emissions is one of the priority initiatives in the European Green Deal and the EU’s methane strategy shows promising potential to boost EU efforts towards key climate objectives, such as an increased ambition on greenhouse gas reduction. The EU methane strategy COM (2020) 663 final, published in October 2020, aims to curb temperature pathways to 2050, improve air quality and reinforce the EU’s global leadership in the fight against climate change.
The strategy will focus on reducing methane emissions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors, as these areas account for almost the entirety of anthropogenic methane emissions. This cross-sectoral approach will take targeted action in each area whilst using synergies across sectors, for example through production of biomethane. As methane emissions transcend national borders, the European Green Deal also stresses the need for international collaboration, including through engagement with third countries and multilateral initiatives.
As a first step, the European Commission launched a roadmap on the EU methane strategy to seek views and input from the public. The roadmap was open for feedback during 5 weeks and closed on 12 August 2020.
To facilitate discussion on reducing methane in the energy sector with the various stakeholders, the Commission organised a workshop in March 2020 on the proposed main elements of the strategic plan on tackling mineral methane. An assessment of stakeholder input on this strategy is published on the workshop event page.
Partners and initiatives
A key aspect of the Commission's work on methane internationally is through partnerships and initiatives. As such, the Commission and the EU more widely is actively involved in several international initiatives on reducing methane emissions, including through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), established under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The CCAC is a voluntary partnership of governments, intergovernmental organisations, businesses, scientific institutions and civil society organisations. The CCAC works to tackle short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and black carbon in an effort to combat climate change and improve local air quality.
Under the CCAC Mineral Methane Initiative, the Commission is involved in an ambitious methane emissions measurement and reporting framework, as part of the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership. The Commission also contributes to the global methane science studies that aim to address a lack of global measurement data in the oil and gas sector.
To help take the issue forward, the Commission supported the establishment of an International Methane Emission Observatory (IMEO) together with UNEP, CCAC and the International Energy Agency. The observatory will collect and verify methane emissions data to provide the international community with an improved understanding of global emissions and where abatement action should be focused. Funding from EU Horizon 2020 will kick-start the initial development of the observatory, followed by contributions from governmental partners.
The IMEO will provide the means to prioritise actions and monitor commitments made by state actors in the Global Methane Pledge – an EU- US-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 – which was launched ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow and already has more than 100 countries signed up.
- Proposal for a Regulation on methane emissions reduction in the energy sector (COM(2021)805)
- Impact assessment report (SWD/2021/459)
- Executive summary of the impact assessment report (SWD/2021/460)
- An EU strategy to reduce methane emissions COM(2020)663 final
- Study: Assistance to assessing options improving market conditions for bio-methane and gas market rules
- Press release: Decarbonising the gas market, promoting hydrogen and tackling methane, the Methane factsheet, Questions and answers on the methane regulation (15/12/2021)
- Methane tracker 2022, International Energy Agency
- Event: Methane emissions: best practices in MRV and abatement in the agriculture, energy and waste sectors (9/6/2020)
- Report: Climate change 2013: The physical science basis, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018)
- International Methane Emissions Observatory
- Global Methane Pledge