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EU Methane Strategy

14 October 2020
by eub2 -- last modified 14 October 2020

The European Commission presented on 14 October an EU strategy to reduce methane emissions.


1. Why is it important to reduce methane emissions?

Methane is the second biggest contributor to climate change, after carbon dioxide (CO2); in Europe, it accounts for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is more powerful than carbon dioxide and it contributes to ozone formation in the lower atmosphere, which is a potent local air pollutant that causes serious health problems. Reducing methane emissions therefore contributes to both slowing down climate change and improving air quality.

Methane emissions from agricultural waste can be captured to produce biogas, which is a form of renewable energy, so effective management of methane emissions can also generate revenues and investments in rural areas.

The EU already has a greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2030 for all greenhouse gases, with human-made methane emissions covered by binding national emission reduction targets under the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR). By June 2021, this Regulation will be reviewed as part of the implementation of the increased emissions reductions target for 2030. The Methane Strategy identifies actions to accelerate the reductions of methane emissions in line with that ambition.

The EU first addressed methane emissions with a strategy adopted in 1996. In the following years, the EU adopted regulatory initiatives that contributed to methane emission reductions in key sectors. Relative to 1990 levels, energy-sector methane emissions have halved, while emissions from waste and agriculture have fallen by a third and just over a fifth respectively. Nevertheless, methane emissions remain a significant challenge in each of these sectors, with global methane emissions projected to increase significantly if not addressed.

2. Does this strategy help to reach the goals of the European Green Deal?

In the European Green Deal Communication, the Commission indicated that energy-related methane emissions needed to be addressed as part of the commitment to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

The 2030 Climate Target Plan's Impact Assessment found that current policies would result in reducing methane emissions in the EU by 29% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. Stepping up the level of ambition for reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions to at least 55% by 2030 would also require an accelerated effort to tackle methane emissions, with projections indicating a step up to 35-37% methane emission reductions is needed.

In this way, policy action to reduce methane emissions will contribute to both the EU's decarbonisation efforts towards the higher 2030 ambition, climate neutrality by 2050 and the EU's zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment.

3. Which type of methane emissions and what sectors will this strategy cover and why?

This strategy focuses on addressing anthropogenic methane emissions, i.e. emissions associated with human activity. Emissions of this type account for around 59% of all methane found in the atmosphere, the remainder is the result of processes that occur in nature (biogenic emissions). In the EU, 53% of anthropogenic methane emissions come from the agricultural sector, 26% from waste and 19% from energy. Similar trends exist at a global level, with roughly 95% of total anthropogenic emissions covered by these three sectors. As a result, the EU methane strategy focuses its attention in these areas.

4. Does the Strategy focus on reducing emissions in the EU or internationally?

This strategy focuses both on reducing methane emissions in the EU and addressing methane emissions associated with supply chains linked to the EU. Acting at home and abroad is vital to making meaningful reductions in atmospheric methane. For example, the EU is the largest importer of fossil gas, yet the majority of emissions associated with these fuel imports are emitted before the gas reaches the EU.

The EU can play an important role in ensuring methane emission reductions at global level. While the EU contributes only 5% of global methane emissions, it can use its position as the largest global importer of fossil fuels and as a strong player in the agriculture sector to support action from global partners. The EU is also a technical leader in satellite imagery and methane emission leak detection through the Copernicus program and can lead international collaboration to improve the monitoring, verification and mitigation of global methane emissions.

For these reasons, this strategy announces that as part of the EU's diplomatic and external relations actions, the Commission will address methane emission reductions in all relevant sectors with partner countries and promote global coordination of efforts to address energy-sector methane emissions.

5. What are the main actions in this strategy?

While in the short-term, the strategy encourages voluntary and business-led initiatives to immediately improve reporting and tackle methane emissions at the global level, EU legislative proposals are planned for 2021.

The Commission will also consider legislation on eliminating routine venting and flaring in the energy sector as well as methane emission reduction targets, standards or other incentives for fossil energy consumed and imported in the EU in the absence of significant commitments to reduce methane emissions by international partners.

Some of the main actions in this strategy are as follows:

Across all sectors:

  • The Commission will support, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and International Energy Agency (IEA), the establishment of an independent international methane emissions observatory. The observatory would collect, reconcile, verify and publish anthropogenic methane emissions data at a global level. With this data the observatory would develop a Methane Supply Index to increase transparency in global methane emissions.
  • The Commission will support biogas production from agricultural waste via National Strategic Plans under the Common Agricultural Policy and re-examine the gas market regulatory framework to facilitate the uptake of distributed and locally connected production of biogas. In addition, the upcoming revision of the Renewable Energy Directive in June 2021, will present opportunities to accelerate the development of the market for biogas.

In the energy sector:

  • The Commission will deliver legislative proposals in 2021 on compulsory measurement, reporting, and verification for all energy-related methane emissions and on an obligation to improve leak detection and repair of leaks on all fossil gas infrastructure.
  • The Commission will consider legislation on eliminating routine venting and flaring in the energy sector.
  • As part of the EU's diplomatic and external relations action, the Commission will address methane emission reductions in all relevant sectors with partner countries and promote global coordination of efforts to address energy-sector methane emissions.
  • The Commission will consider methane emission reduction targets, standards or other incentives for fossil energy consumed and imported in the EU, in the absence of significant commitments to reduce methane emissions from international partners.

In the agricultural sector:

  • The Commission will support setting up an expert group to analyse life-cycle methane emissions. This group will look at livestock, manure and feed management, feed characteristics, new technologies and practices and other issues.
  • The Commission will develop an inventory of best practices and available technologies to explore and promote the wider uptake of innovative mitigating actions. These actions will have a special focus on methane from enteric fermentation.
  • The Commission will promote dietary changes through the actions announced in its Farm to Fork Strategy.

In the waste sector:

  • In the review of the Landfill Directive in 2024, the Commission will consider further action to improve the management of landfill gas, minimise its harmful climate effects, and harness any of its potential energy gains.

6. How costly is it to reduce methane emissions in the EU?

There are a number of mitigation options for upstream oil and gas operations that have no net costs, or near zero costs. The greatest benefits in net economic, environmental and social terms would be achieved by reducing venting and flaring, reducing leaks in fossil gas and oil production, transmission and combustion, and reducing methane emissions from coalmines.

There is also positive economic potential from mitigating the cost of emission reductions in agriculture, through the reduction of nutrient losses in animal feed by enteric fermentation and by producing biogas.

Any legislative proposal will be based on an impact assessment, which will comprehensively assess the implications of legislation, including in terms of costs, and it will be conducted in close consultation with international partners, civil society and key stakeholders.

7. Can EU financial instruments play a role in reducing methane emissions?

New technologies for better conversion of waste to biomethane can be effective in further reducing methane emissions in the sector. In this respect, the Commission will consider proposing targeted research on technology-based solutions in its Strategic Plan 2021-2024 of Horizon Europe. The EU also intends to support the utilisation and mitigation of methane from active and abandoned coalmines through the Coal Regions in Transition initiative

NextGenerationEU and the Common Agricultural Policy can support projects for biogas production in rural areas. The Commission will propose a pilot project to support rural areas and farming communities in building biogas projects and accessing funds for biogas production from agricultural waste.

Source: European Commission