by Joe Uprichard
What is methane, and what is the problem?
Methane is a ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG): meaning that it absorbs and re-emits infrared radiation from the Sun in the form of heat . Whilst ‘greenhouse gasses’are integral to maintaining a suitable temperature for life on Earth–through a process known as the ‘greenhouse effect’–an over-concentration of these gases in the atmosphere can cause an ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’, commonly known as global warming .
Methane is the second biggest greenhouse gas contributor to climate change following carbon dioxide, accounting for around 30% of global warming. Methane’s global warming potential is 28 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timescale, and is 84 times more potent over a period of 20-years [2,3]. Furthermore, methane is a powerful air pollutant, which has been shown to cause serious health problems; long-term exposure to ozone air pollution, caused by the interaction of sunlight with hydrocarbons (including methane) and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere, has been linked to 1 million premature deaths per year .
Methane concentration in the atmosphere is currently 2.5 times greater than pre-industrial levels, and anthropogenic emissions account for 60% of annual global methane emissions. As such, methane emissions are causing a significant problem for climate mitigation that clearly needs to be addressed if we are to tackle broader issues surrounding climate change and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels [5;6]. Indeed, reducing anthropogenic methane emissions by 50% over the next 30 years could mitigate global temperature change by 0.2°C by 2050 .
What is the scope of the proposal?
The proposal primarily targets methane emissions from EU-based energy assets, such as oil, gas, and coal installations.The proposal would introduce information requirements on importers of fossil energy sourcing from outside the EU in relation to the installations of their suppliers. The discrepancy in obligations that the regulation would place on EU-based energy suppliers is a source of contention (see below).
Does the regulation set targets?
The regulation is less concerned with specific targets, and is more interested in introducing specific measures to aid in bringing about the reductions in methane emissions committed to by EU policy and its international agreements. One such instrument is the Global Methane Pledge–launched in November 2021–which commits the EU (and 110 countries) to reducing global methane emissions by 30% by the year 2030 (as compared with 2020 levels), as well as improving the quantification of methane emissions .
How does the proposal intend to reduce methane pollution, and who must do what?
The proposal operates through the imposition of accountability mechanisms, and specific prohibitions on practices which currently lead to increased methane emissions.
Requirements for monitoring and reporting; leak-detection and repair; and stringent limits on the situations where venting and flaring would be permitted (Articles 11-18), would aim to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors from EU-based operators. Such operators would be further obliged to prevent and minimize methane emissions by any and all means available to them (Article 13). Similar obligations would be imposed on the coal sector (Articles 20-26)–although venting and flaring from drainage stations in underground coal mines would only be prohibited from 2025 (Article 22). Competent authorities would be designated by each Member State (Article 4), who would be responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of the regulation. Such competent authorities would be required to conduct periodic inspections in order to verify the operators’ compliance with the proposal (Article 6).Natural and legal persons would also be able to file complaints with the competent authorities in relation to alleged breaches of the regulation (Article 7).
Importers of fossil energy would be mandated to provide information to the competent authorities of the importing Member State (Article 27). This information would include whether the exporter (supplier) is undertaking measurement and reporting of its methane emissions, and whether it is applying measures to control its methane emissions (such as leak detection, or restrictions on the venting and flaring of methane) (Annex VIII). Article 27 allows the possibility of strengthening obligations on imported fossil energy, requiring the re-examination of the application of the Article by the end of 2025 (or possibly earlier).
A methane transparency database (Article 28), and methane emitters global monitoring tool (Article 29), are further proposed to ensure the accountability of operators and inform future policy.
Have there been any reactions to the proposal?
There is a consensus amongst numerous NGOs that the proposal is welcome;however, the discrepancy between obligations imposed on EU-sourced fossil fuels and imported fossil fuels is problematic. Energy Monitor and the Environmental Defence Fund both hold the view that the proposal does not sufficiently address methane emissions linked to imported gas, given that most emissions occur before the gas even enters the EU [8,9]. This is a view shared by some lawmakers in the European Parliament, who also fear that the proposal would disadvantage the EU fossil fuel industry compared to foreign competitors, due to the more stringent measures imposed on them . The Heinrich Böll Foundation takes issue with the lack of binding reduction targets offered by the proposal, arguing that this demonstrates a lack of ambition .
This would be the first-ever EU legislative proposal on the reduction of methane emissions in the energy sector; with measures designed to secure such a reduction through the increased accountability of the oil, gas, and coal sectors and specific prohibitions on polluting practices. As the legislation progresses, the centre of the debate will likely shift to examine the extent to which similar obligations should be placed on imported fossil fuels.
Reference List The greenhouse effect, British Geological Survey, Available at: https://www.bgs.ac.uk/discovering-geology/climate-change/how-does-the-greenhouse-effect-work/ [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Reducing Methane Emissions in the EU Energy Sector, European Commission, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/fs_21_6689 [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Methane emissions, European Commission, Available at: https://energy.ec.europa.eu/topics/oil-gas-and-coal/methane-emissions_en [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Tropospheric ozone, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Available at: https://www.ccacoalition.org/en/slcps/tropospheric-ozone [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Methane Tracker 2021, International Energy Agency, Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/methane-tracker-2021/methane-and-climate-change [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Marielle Saunois et al., The Global Methane Budget 2000-2017, Earth System Science Data, Available at: https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-12-1561-2020 [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Global Methane Pledge, Available at: https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/ [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Seb Kennedy, EU Commission fails to grasp the methane nettle, Energy Monitor, Available at: https://www.energymonitor.ai/tech/cleaner-fuels/eu-commission-fails-to-grasp-the-methane-nettle [Accessed on 29th April, 2022]
 Dagmar Droogsma, Commission’s draft methane rules miss crucial climate opportunity, EURACTIV, Available at: https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/opinion/commissions-draft-methane-rules-miss-crucial-climate-opportunity/ [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Kira Taylor, Lawmakers call for tough EU measures to tackle methane leaks from gas imports, EURACTIV, Available at: https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/lawmakers-call-for-tough-eu-measures-to-tackle-methane-leaks-from-gas-imports/ [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Andy Gheorghiu, Methane pledges with no cutting edges? Is the EU Commission ready to walk the talk on tackling crucial overall emissions?, Energy Transition, Available at: https://energytransition.org/2021/12/methane-pledges-with-no-cutting-edges-is-the-eu-commission-ready-to-walk-the-talk-on-tackling-crucial-overall-emissions/ [Accessed on 29th April 2022]
 Commission proposes new EU framework to decarbonize gas markets, promote hydrogen and reduce methane emissions, European Commission, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_6682 [Accessed on 29th April 2022]