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.
Preventing methane leaks in the energy sector
As announced in the EU methane strategy adopted in October 2020, the European Commission is preparing a legislative proposal to prevent methane leaks in the energy sector. It will include binding rules on monitoring, reporting, verification, leak detection and repair in the energy sector and will consider rules on routine venting and flaring. The proposal is due to be published in 2021 and will contribute to reaching the EU’s ambitious climate goal for 2030 and its 2050 climate neutrality objective.
The Commission published the inception impact assessment that was open for input until 26 January 2021. A public consultation was also held from 5 February to 1 May 2021.
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 five 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 on 20 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.
A study to identify knowledge gaps on methane
To better understand the nature and size of the problem within the EU, the European Commission launched a call for tender for a study in 2019 on limiting methane emissions in the energy sector. In addition to identifying main knowledge gaps and potential hotspots, this study will provide recommendations on how to improve measurement, monitoring and detection. The study also aims to assess existing policies and voluntary industry initiatives globally, and offer policy recommendations for the EU.
The preliminary results were presented and discussed by stakeholders from the energy sector in a meeting on 10 June. The final study is expected in 2021.
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.
Moving forward the Commission will support the establishment of an International Methane Emission Observatory 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.
- European Green Deal
Methane tracker 2021, International Energy Agency
Report: Climate change 2013: The physical science basis, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018)