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EU’s upcoming methane strategy fails to tackle gas imports

11 December 2021 Cristina Brooks

Green groups highlighted a lack of trade restrictions on imports of fossil fuels in the EU's forthcoming methane strategy, which they say doesn't go far enough.

NGO umbrella group Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, UK NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and other groups criticized the EU's proposed package of Fit for 55 climate neutrality policies at a 10 December press conference.

The draft EU strategy to slash methane emissions was published in October. The final draft will include legislative and non-legislative proposals. It is set to be delivered for consideration by the European Parliament and EU Council later this month, and will tackle methane emissions from natural gas production, among other things.

The strategy noted the EU was "the largest global importer of fossil fuels," particularly gas, with the power to put pressure on international partners to curb their methane emissions, despite the EU being responsible for only 5% of global methane emissions.

It will seek not only to measure more EU methane emissions through so-called MRV (measurement, reporting, and verification), but also to oblige the energy sector to improve the leak detection and repair (LDAR) for EU-based energy installations.

But the chances of the methane emissions strategy becoming law may be "challenging because of the need to reconcile competing interests, including agricultural concerns," said IHS Markit analysts in a briefing on the strategy.

Fossil fuel focus

The EC's methane strategy will still target coal, oil, and gas rather than the larger agricultural emissions because the sector is cheaper to modify, the analysts said in the briefing. Agriculture creates 40% of global methane emissions, while fossil fuels create 35%.

Even so, the methane strategy doesn't touch the bulk of the EU's fossil fuel consumption. "For the methane regulations, the EU is cowering away from extending its measures to imports so that it covers all oil and gas consumed in the EU," said Tim Grabiel, an environmental lawyer with the EIA. "By instead electing just to apply these measures domestically, imports are excluded."

"Leak detection and repair and restrictions on routine venting and flaring will not apply to what we consume if they [occur] outside [the EU]" Grabiel said. "What is our responsibility? Well, here are the facts. We import over four-fifths of our oil and gas, we import over two-fifths of our coal."

"So, we're essentially outsourcing our methane emissions to third countries that have done very little to mitigate them. To name a few: Russia, Qatar, Algeria, and the United States," he continued.

"This sends a particularly dangerous signal to the world, that it is okay to pledge and pontificate on the podium but dally and dither at home," Grabiel said.

At the COP26 climate summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe would spare no effort to become the first climate-neutral continent as foreseen by the Fit for 55 package.

IHS Markit's briefing found EU methane rules relating to imports could have a significant "galvanizing impact" on global efforts to reduce methane emissions.

Import restrictions could still appear in later drafts of the legislation. "The Parliament may wish legislation to go further than the Commission, for example with regard to measures on imports of oil and gas, or emissions from agriculture," IHS Markit analysts found.

International methane initiatives

Efforts in this area have been growing. In September, the US and the EU made a broad pledge to cooperate on methane reduction internationally, The Global Methane Pledge, and in November at COP26, the US and China signed a cooperation agreement to slash methane emissions that will see them create standards, improve measurement, and work on methane reduction strategies.

The US Department of the Treasury also has urged multilateral development banks to assist with financing projects that curb methane.

Moves have ramped up since the UN Environment Programme's May study of global methane emissions found that rising methane emissions are impeding moves to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, one ambition of the Paris Agreement.

Posted 11 December 2021 by Cristina Brooks, Senior Journalist, Climate and Sustainability

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