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.
EU methane strategy
Reducing methane emissions is one of the priority initiatives in the European Green Deal and the EU’s methane strategy, published in October 2020, which shows promising potential to boost EU efforts towards key climate objectives, such as an increased ambition on greenhouse gas reduction. The strategy aims to curb temperature pathways to 2050, improve air quality and reinforce the EU’s global leadership in the fight against climate change. It 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.
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 Partnership’ (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.
Partners and initiatives
As methane emissions transcend national borders, the European Green Deal stresses the need for international collaboration, including through engagement with third countries and multilateral initiatives.
The Commission, and the EU more widely, is actively involved in several other 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 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 Oil and Gas Methane Science Studies, which aim to address a lack of global measurement data in the oil and gas sector.
Methane Emission Observatory
To help take the issue forward, the Commission supported in 2021 the establishment of the International Methane Emission Observatory (IMEO) together with the UNEP, the CCAC and the International Energy Agency. The IMEO collects and verifies 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 kick-started the development of the observatory, followed by contributions from governmental partners, such as the US Department of State, the Global Methane Hub and Bezos Earth Fund.
The IMEO will provide the means to prioritise actions and monitor commitments made by state actors in the Global Methane Pledge (GMP), an EU- US-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 launched in 2021, ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow. In the year since its launch, the Global Methane Pledge has generated unprecedented momentum for methane action. Country endorsements of the GMP have grown from just over 100 last year to 150, and more than 50 countries have developed national methane action plans or are in the process of doing so.
In November 2022, at the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, IMEO announced the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), which is a satellite-based system to detect methane emissions. It will start with major emission sources from the energy sector, but will expand to cover other methane emitting sectors, such as waste and livestock.
In June 2022, a GMP Energy Pathway was launched at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate to accelerate methane emissions reductions in the fossil energy sector. A GMP Food and Agriculture Pathway and GMP Waste Pathway were launched in the margins of COP27, where the US and the EU convened a Methane Ministerial to highlight the progress and discuss further implementation steps, including enhanced efforts leading up to COP28.
- Factsheet: Global Methane Pledge: From Moment to Momentum (November 2022)
- Report: An Eye on Methane: International Methane Emissions Observatory 2022 Report (October 2022)
- 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 (December 2021)
- Report: Climate change 2013: The physical science basis (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013)
- Methane tracker 2022, International Energy Agency
- Press release: Proposal of a new EU framework to decarbonise gas markets, promote hydrogen and reduce methane emissions, Methane factsheet, Questions and answers (15/12/2021)
- International Methane Emissions Observatory
- Global Methane Pledge
- Workshop: Strategic plan to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector (20/03/2020)