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Canada targets municipal landfills with GHG offset program

09 June 2022 Amena Saiyid

Landfill operators received the go-ahead 8 June from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to begin participating in the first nationwide GHG Offset Credit program.

ECCC Minister Steven Guilbeault announced the release of the final protocol for municipal solid waste landfill operators to start generating offset credits for every metric ton of CO2-equivalent of methane they capture and destroy.

"Starting with landfills, we're putting in place a market-based mechanism to incentivize businesses and municipalities to invest in the technologies and innovations that cut pollution," Guilbeault said in a statement accompanying the protocol.

Under the program, municipalities will earn federal offset credits equivalent to the total amount of GHG emissions reduced and be able to sell these credits to industrial facilities to help them comply with their annual emissions limits.

A byproduct of decomposed organic waste in landfills, methane is a component of natural gas. As a GHG, methane is much more potent than CO2. It is estimated to have 80-86 times the global warming potential over the first 20 years of its release.

Low-hanging fruit

As part of its federal offset program, Canada is tackling the low-hanging fruit first by releasing a protocol for municipal landfills, which are responsible for nearly a quarter of methane emissions. Together with industrial wood waste landfills, they make up 27% of GHGs.

Guilbeault said ECCC will be releasing protocols for the industrial refrigeration, direct air capture, agriculture, and forestry sectors later this year so they too can take part in the federal offset carbon scheme.

Before the UN COP27 meeting takes place in Egypt in November, ECCC will be releasing a comprehensive strategy for methane reduction across all industrial sectors including oil and gas.

Released initially in draft form in January, the ECCC's Landfill Methane Recovery and Destruction Protocol will apply to sites currently operating in Canadian provinces that have not yet set up their own GHG offset programs and protocols. Alberta, Quebec and British Columbia already have their own programs in place, and ECCC said they helped in developing the federal program. Saskatchewan is still in the process of developing its own scheme.

However, landfills earning credit for reductions in a provincial program won't be able to claim them in the federal one unless they meet very strict criteria, according to the protocol.

Oil, gas sector targeted too

According to ECCC, there are more than 3,000 operating landfills across the nation.

The ECCC protocol spells out procedures for quantifying and reporting GHG reductions from eligible methane recovery activities at landfills. The ECCC said the reductions can only result and be claimed from avoided methane emissions. In other words, methane emissions that are recovered from landfill gases and destroyed in an eligible destruction device, such as flares, boilers, turbines, or internal combustion engines. It also can be repurposed for use in natural gas networks.

The protocol made it clear that projects that use the recovered methane to generate energy or heat may reduce their GHG emissions from fuel combustion, but they won't be counted towards GHG reductions under the federal program.

In 2020, methane accounted for 92 million mt CO2e of Canada's GHG emissions, which totaled 672 million mt in 2019. Fugitive releases from oil and gas activities made up the lion's share with 35% of total methane emissions, followed by agriculture at 30%. Solid waste disposal, which includes municipal landfills and industrial wood waste sites, made up 27%.

"We know from the work of the International Energy Agency that there are cost-effective reduction measures in the oil and gas sector where emissions can be captured at no net cost," Guilbeault said. That is why, he added, Canada is implementing regulations in the oil and gas sector to reduce emissions 40-45% by 2025, "and we are well on our way to achieve those, and why we've committed to reducing our emissions by at least 75% by 2030."

Global Methane Pledge

Last September, Canada, which ranks among the world's top 15 emitters, signed onto the EU-US initiated Global Methane Pledge, which called for a 30% cut in methane emissions by the end of the decade.

The global pledge, which was formally launched at the UN COP26 meeting last November now includes 113 nations that account for about 50% of global methane emissions.

Speaking at the first in-person meeting of the Global Methane Hub on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Guilbeault said that "many of the things governments do can be politically challenging and can take time to implement," such as decarbonizing the auto sector or the electricity sector.

"But it's not the case with the reducing methane emissions. We can do this, and we can do this quickly," he said.

Mapping leaks

The Global Methane Hub is an alliance of more than 20 philanthropic groups and organizations that have committed at least $300 million in resources towards helping countries meet the worldwide pledge through technical and financial assistance.

Hub Chairman Marcelo Mena announced that the nonprofit Carbon Mapper would start flying satellites over Latin America this year and Africa in 2023 to measure and map the sources of methane leaks. It has been measuring leaks over California since 2019.

Commenting on the developments taking place in the methane space, Jonathan Banks, global director for super pollutants with the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Task Force who followed the 9 June meeting virtually, told Net-Zero Business Daily by S&P Global Commodity Insights that "the big news is the continued progress in bringing countries together to mitigate methane."

Americas on board

At this point, he said nearly every country in the Americas, from Canada in the north to Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina in the south, have joined the global pledge. He singled out the inclusion of Trinidad & Tobago, which the US Energy Information Administration said is the largest oil and gas exporter in the Caribbean. Leaks from oil and gas production activities are predominantly responsible for global methane emissions.

"It's a sign of the region's commitment to really tackle the climate crisis and to reduce methane emissions," Banks added.

While pledges undeniably reflect a high-level political commitment, he said, the next step ought to and should be action by these countries.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry said tackling methane emissions is "the single biggest, fastest, easiest reduction" to avoid global warming because it is low tech.

"It's plumbing, fundamentally. Tighten up the bolts, fill the leaks, and keep the pipes clean. That's the way we deal with it," Kerry told the gathering.

Posted 09 June 2022 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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