Is the EU ready to take decisive steps towards slashing its methane footprint from imports?
With the transition to a low-carbon and green world taking a backseat to energy security woes due to various roadblocks, including geopolitical challenges, the European Union (EU) seems to be at a crossroads, as its decision-makers prepare to weigh in on whether to include a performance standard for methane emissions from imports in the first EU-wide legislation aimed at cutting these emissions from the energy sector.
After the EU Parliament adopted its position on a new law to reduce methane emissions from the energy sector with 499 votes in favor, 73 against, and 55 abstentions, the Parliament was ready to start negotiations with the EU Council on the final text of the legislation. The new law, which is seen as the first piece of EU legislation aimed at cutting methane emissions, covers direct methane emissions from oil, gas, coal, and biomethane once injected into the gas network.
With energy imports making up over 80% of the oil and gas consumed, the EU is said to be the largest global importer of natural gas. As a result, the Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE) – a non-governmental organization (NGO) looking for ways to clean the air, decarbonize shipping, and reduce methane pollution – believes that the European Union shoulders significant responsibility for methane emissions beyond its borders.
Furthermore, the representatives from the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and the European Commission will meet on Tuesday, November 14, to hammer out a compromise agreement on the European Commission’s proposed regulation. The EU’s Methane Regulation aims to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuel operations in line with international commitments like the Global Methane Pledge.
EDFE places great significance on the November 14 triloque, as a decisive moment for EU climate action, since decision-makers will be mulling over whether to include a performance standard for methane emissions from imports. With negotiators gearing up for these high-stakes talks that could decide the fate of the European Union’s ambitious proposal to curb planet-warming methane emissions from the energy sector, the NGO urged climate leadership, enabling the EU to unlock major methane reductions.
Flavia Sollazzo, Senior Director, EU Energy Transition at Environmental Defense Fund Europe, commented: “As the world’s largest natural gas importer, the EU can no longer outsource pollution while claiming climate leadership. The bloc’s external ‘methane footprint’ is up to 8 times higher than its domestic emissions and worse still, we know through scientific measurements that in most places, emissions are underreported.
“On November 14, the EU must match rhetoric with action by passing an ambitious Methane Regulation that includes a performance standard on imports. Because it stays in our atmosphere for less time, reducing methane is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to slow down global warming and stabilize our climate. But we must act now.”
With a warming potential over 80 times greater than that of carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere, methane is a potent greenhouse gas, which has been identified as the second-largest contributor to global warming. Based on available data, methane emissions from human activity are responsible for at least 25% of the current global warming with the oil and gas sector standing out as a significant contributor, as its methane emissions are said to be about 70% higher than official data shows and expected to rise even further.
As extreme weather events have accelerated worldwide since the EU first proposed the regulation in 2021, EDFE claims that a climate disaster is unfolding with more intense heatwaves, floods, and storms on the horizon. Within its 2023 Methane Tracker, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that the global energy sector was responsible for nearly 40% of total human-caused methane emissions in 2022, second only to agriculture while around 75% of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations could be reduced with existing technology – two-thirds of it at no net cost.
“There is no more time to waste. This regulation is long overdue, but we’re hopeful the EU will step up to act on this golden opportunity for climate action,” concluded Sollazzo.