Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE)

Good omen for getting rid of methane menace, as EU signals readiness to scale up reduction efforts

As climate change and the energy crisis take their toll on the global stage, the pivot towards a low-carbon and green energy future is being pursued with higher intensity. This is demonstrated by the European Parliament’s landslide plenary vote to step up the European Union’s attempts to curb the methane footprint with the first EU-wide legislation aimed at cutting these emissions from the energy sector. The newly adopted position on a new law throws fossil energy imports – oil, gas, and coal – in the regulation, thus, importers will be held accountable to the same rules.

Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE)

The EU Parliament adopted its position on a new law to reduce methane emissions from the energy sector on 9 May 2023 with 499 votes in favour, 73 against and 55 abstentions to reach the EU’s climate goals and improve air quality. As a result, the Parliament is now ready to start negotiations with the EU Council on the final text of the legislation. The new law is seen as the first piece of EU legislation aimed at cutting methane emissions and covers direct methane emissions from oil, gas, coal and biomethane once injected into the gas network.

As the MEPs also want the new rules to include the petrochemicals sector, the EU Parliament has urged the European Commission to propose a binding 2030 reduction target for EU methane emissions for all relevant sectors by the end of 2025, since member states should set national reduction targets as part of their integrated national energy and climate plans.

The EU is considered to be the world’s largest natural gas importer with energy imports making up over 80 per cent of the oil and gas consumed, thus, the MEPs want importers of coal, oil and gas to be obliged to demonstrate that the imported fossil energy also meets the requirements in the regulation from 2026. However, imports from countries with similar requirements for methane emissions would be exempted from EU rules.

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Jutta Paulus, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, DE, remarked: “Today’s vote is a commitment to more climate protection and energy sovereignty in Europe. Without ambitious measures to reduce methane emissions, Europe will miss its climate targets and valuable energy will continue to be wasted. We call for ambitious and stringent methane reduction measures.

“In the energy sector, three-quarters of methane emissions can be avoided through simple measures and without large investments. As Europe imports more than 80 per cent of the fossil fuels it burns, it is essential to expand the scope to energy imports.”

Methane – a powerful greenhouse gas and air pollutant coming from a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, waste and energy – is responsible for approximately a third of current global warming. To tackle these emissions, the EU signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030, which could eliminate over 0.2˚C warming by 2050.

By adopting this legislation, the EU Parliament underscores that it is responding to citizens’ expectations to accomplish and speed up the green transition as expressed in the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

EU set on upping the methane mitigation ante

Several organisations have welcomed the EU Parliament’s plenary vote, as it indicated strong support for limiting methane emissions in the energy sector. One of these is a non-governmental organisation called the Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE), which expressed concern ahead of the plenary vote, after a small number of the European Parliament members tabled an additional set of amendments, as the new set was seen as “greatly concerning” since it was perceived as a way to “subvert the scope of the regulation itself.”

Following the vote, Flavia Sollazzo, Senior Director, EU Energy Transition, Environmental Defense Fund Europe, commented: “While today’s vote is a step in the right direction, we are looking forward to the European Parliament’s negotiators working towards an ambitious and robust final regulation after trilogues, especially when it comes to delivering strong rules on monitoring, reporting and verification of methane and leak detection and repair, as well as putting in place an ambitious performance standard for methane emissions intensity. 

“Now is the moment for Europe to lead on reducing the impact of methane on our climate and to take up the opportunity to meet the EU’s climate targets as well as assert its leadership role in global energy diplomacy. In view of the upcoming trilogues, the EU must seize this opportunity and work towards an ambitious and robust final regulation to fulfil its responsibilities to today’s citizens and future generations.”

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Renew Europe was also among those that welcomed the plenary approval of the regulation to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector. According to Renew Europe, the vote marks another bold step forward to keep the EU’s binding 2030 and long-term climate targets within reach, as direct methane gas emissions, especially from the oil, gas and coal sectors can be considered as the low-hanging fruit of climate protection.

Pascal Canfin, MEP, L’Europe Ensemble, France, ENVI chair, declared: “We need to regulate our methane emissions in the same way as we do with our CO2 emissions if we are to be consistent in the fight against climate change. I welcome the ambitious position that the Parliament has just adopted. This ambition is necessary to meet our international commitments. As the majority of our methane emissions are linked to our fossil fuel imports, I, therefore, welcome the extension of the scope of this regulation to imports.”

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Furthermore, Renew Europe considers the European Parliament’s green light for an appropriate legal framework to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector as a way to ensure that emissions are better regulated and will henceforth set limits on wasted energy from leaks, flaring or venting during industrial processes.

Therefore, useful energy will no longer be wasted, leaks quickly plugged and the energy that has been captured can be used for more efficient purposes. With more than 80 per cent of the EU’s oil and gas consumption coming from imports, Renew Europe expressed its approval of the EU Parliament’s assent to extend the scope of the methane regulation to imports.

Martin Hojsík, MEP, Progresívne Slovensko, Slovakia, Renew Europe Shadow rapporteur in ENVI and ITRE, stated: “We pledged at the COP26 in Glasgow to sharply cut our methane emissions. With an ambitious methane regulation, we can show our partners that we not only talk to talk, but put our words into actions. Preventing methane emissions and capturing gas that would have previously been wasted, is one of the key tools towards climate neutrality.

“It is a solution that brings several benefits – slows down climate change and brings back valuable economic and energy source. And a proof that climate mitigation goes hand in hand with energy security and innovations. Renew Europe is ready to start negotiations with the other institutions and is committed to seek strong EU position at the next COP28.”