Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas contributor to climate change following carbon dioxide. In fact, methane’s ability to trap heat in the atmosphere is even stronger than that of 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.
According to the International Energy Agency, the annual increase in methane concentration from 2020 to 2021 was the highest on record and real-time data shows that levels continued to increase in 2022. When using fossil gas for electricity generation, lifecycle methane emissions must not exceed 3% of delivered volumes, because in climate terms, it would then be better to use coal for electricity generation. Abating methane emissions is therefore highly relevant to achieving the 2050 climate objectives. Moreover, methane is a potent local air pollutant and contributor to ozone formation, which causes serious health problems.
Key figures on methane
According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Scientific Advisory Panel, reducing methane emissions associated with human activity by 50% over the next 30 years would mitigate against global temperature change by 0.2°C, a significant step towards keeping the overall temperature increase below 2°C.
The International Energy Agency estimates that more than 260 bcm of gas was wasted worldwide in 2021 due to flaring, venting and leaking and that 47% of those emissions can be mitigated with existing technology through measures, such as leak detection and repair. That gas could contribute to the EU security of supply, greater liquidity and help lower prices. It could also mean that new reserves would not be needed to take us to 2050. Given the market value of the additional gas captured through such measures, 40% of these mitigations would have no net-cost.
EU methane strategy
Tackling greenhouse gas emissions is a priority of the European Green Deal.
The EU’s methane strategy (COM2020/663), published in October 2020, sets Europe’s ambition and aims to curb temperature increases, improve air quality and reinforce the EU’s global leadership in the fight against climate change.
It focuses on reducing methane emissions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors, which account for almost all human-related methane emissions.
This cross-sectoral approach takes targeted action in each area while also promoting synergies across sectors, for example through the production of biomethane.
Regulation on methane emissions reduction 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 emissions in the energy sector.
The provisional agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council on 15 November 2023. After its formal adoption, it will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.
The new legal act will provide for reducing energy sector methane emissions in Europe and in our global supply chains. It aims to stop the avoidable release of methane into the atmosphere and to minimise leaks of methane by fossil energy companies operating in the EU. The new regulation covers
- improved measurement, reporting and verification of energy sector methane emissions
- an immediate reduction in emissions through mandatory leak detection and repair and a ban on venting and flaring practices, which involve the release of methane directly into the atmosphere
- a methane transparency requirement on imports, collecting information on whether and how exporter countries/companies are measuring, reporting and abating methane emissions, with a view to establish a methane intensity profile of those entities
The Commission proposals on measurement and reporting of methane emissions, which build on the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP 2.0) framework, will help understand the exact locations and volumes of methane emitted, allowing a shift from estimates to direct measurements of methane emissions, 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 to detect leaks. If found, they would need to be repaired immediately, mostly within 5 or 15 working days and monitored to ensure that repairs were successful. The proposal also bans venting and routine flaring, allowing venting only in exceptional or unavoidable circumstances for safety reasons. It allows flaring only if re-injection, utilisation on-site or transport of the methane to a market are not technically feasible, with more restrictive rules for how it can be carried out.
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.
MMRV Working Group
The new International Working Group on measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification (MMRV) was publicly announced on 15 November 2023.
The Working Group members include 12 countries, the European Commission and the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (as observer): Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
It aims to develop a consensus-based approach for the MMRV of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the international supply chain of natural gas, from pre-production through final delivery, to enable the provision of comparable and reliable information as well as to better equip companies with tools to rapidly reduce their GHG emissions.
The Working Group will also advance data accuracy and comparability by building upon well-established and globally recognised frameworks, particularly OGMP 2.0, which today includes over 115 companies with assets in more than 60 countries, representing over 35% of the world’s oil and gas production and over 70% of LNG flows.
Global Methane Pledge
President von der Leyen and President Biden launched the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 in Glasgow 2021 to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Since its launch, the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) has generated unprecedented momentum for methane action. Country endorsements have grown from just over 100 in 2021 to 150 representing 80% of the global economy, and more than 50 countries have developed national methane action plans or are in the process of doing so.
In June 2022, a GMP Energy Pathwaywas 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 EU and the US convened a Methane Ministerial to highlight the progress and discuss further implementation steps, including enhanced efforts leading up to COP28.
In September 2023, at the occasion of the UN General Assembly in New York, Canada, the Federated States of Micronesia, Germany, Japan, and Nigeria joined the EU and the US as Champions of the Global Methane Pledge.
Joint declaration on reducing GHG emissions from fossil fuels
At COP27 in 2022, the EU also confirmed its commitment on methane emission reduction by endorsing a ‘Joint declaration on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels’,together withtheUnited States, Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
Together they represent 50% of global gas import volumes and over 30% of global gas production. And they aim to take steps to reduce the methane emissions associated with their energy consumption, which can spur emissions reductions across the value chain.
Methane Finance Sprint
At the Major Economies Forum in April 2023, the EU joined the Methane Finance Sprint, launched by President Biden asking governments to contribute to the goal of mobilising at least $200 million in new methane finance for projects by COP28.
International 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.
Funding from EU Horizon 2020 kick-started the development of the observatory, followed by further contributions from the EU through the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and from other partners, such as the Global Methane Hub and Bezos Earth Fund.
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. It provides a sound scientific basis for the implementation of the Global Methane Pledge. Its collected data help to prioritize actions and monitor results against commitments made by state actors as well as oil and gas companies.
The IMEO also coordinates the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP 2.0), the flagship oil and gas reporting and mitigation programme of UNEP. It is the only comprehensive, measurement-based international reporting framework for the sector, which today covers 35% of oil and gas producers and 70% of LNG flows.
In November 2022, at the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, IMEO announced the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), a satellite-based system to detect methane emissions. It has started through pilots to detect major emissions from the energy sector, and in the future, it will expand to cover other methane emitting sectors, such as waste and livestock.
Climate and Clean Air Coalition
The EU 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 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. In this context, the Commission submitted an EU methane action plan in November 2022 to appear alongside other national plans.
- Factsheet: Global Methane Pledge: From Moment to Momentum (November 2022)
- EU Methane Action Plan (November 2022)
- Report: An Eye on Methane: International Methane Emissions Observatory 2022 Report (October 2022)
- Report: Climate change 2013: The physical science basis (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013)
- Commission steps up ambition to agree on a global framework for the measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions (15/11/2023)
- Deal on first-ever EU law to curb methane emissions (15/11/2023)
- Proposal of a new EU framework to decarbonise gas markets, promote hydrogen and reduce methane emissions (15/12/2021)
- Methane tracker 2023, International Energy Agency
- 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)
- Study: Assistance to assessing options improving market conditions for bio-methane and gas market rules (December 2021)
- An EU strategy to reduce methane emissions (COM(2020)663 final)
- Workshop: Strategic plan to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector (20/03/2020)
- International Methane Emissions Observatory
- Global Methane Pledge
- Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC)