European lawmakers have agreed to introduce Europe's first law aimed at reducing methane emissions, which account for a third of global warming. Overseas supplies aimed at oil and gas production will be affected.
Methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases. EU lawmakers have just reached a final agreement to cut methane emissions from fossil fuels after tough negotiations and just days before the COP28 conference.
The new rules will force oil, gas and coal companies to regularly inspect their pipelines, coal mines and oil wells for methane leaks into the atmosphere. Any leaks will have to be repaired.
A crucial contribution to the fight against climate change
While leaks sometimes occur without the knowledge of energy companies, producers often choose to release gas into the atmosphere themselves, especially when it is more expensive to contain or bring to market.
The EU made a global commitment at COP26, to reduce emissions in the Old Continent by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020.
Pascal Canfin, the new chair of the European Parliament's environment committee, was pleased that methane is no longer a blind spot in Brussels' climate strategy.
Action is urgently needed. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is eighty times more potent than CO2 over a twenty-year period. It is responsible for a third of global warming. Its harmful effects have long been underestimated. According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, methane emissions from oil and gas operations worldwide are 30% higher than estimates provided by countries to the UN.
Most of this discrepancy is accounted for by the United States, Russia, Venezuela and Turkmenistan, the world's four largest oil and gas producers.
Methane: a new target to shoot down
The text of the document will undoubtedly have global implications, as from 2027 its measures will apply to imports - something France has particularly insisted on - and therefore to energy market players wherever they are located. More than 90% of oil and gas in the EU-27 depends on foreign supplies. Any operator that fails to reduce emissions could see its market share shrink.
"We are watching you," Jutta Paulus, a Greens MEP and the parliament's chief negotiator, said in a message to fossil fuel companies outside the bloc. We want to do something really significant for the climate."
China, which is the largest emitter of
Determining thresholds for leak detection and repair has been the subject of much debate during negotiations among European lawmakers, with industry lobbying against what it sees as overly stringent rules.
In addition, some member states were concerned about the possible impact on energy supplies, at a time when the EU's dependence on Russian imports has already been significantly reduced.
Why did methane jump?
While this is the first European law on the issue, it is also the latest initiative in a string of global agreements to reduce methane production. The world's largest methane producer, China, promised action in early November. "It is in the EU that we will have the most stringent system in the world," notes the office of Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the French minister for energy transition, who negotiated this European regulation on behalf of France.
This seems all the more obvious because, according to scientists, it will be one of the cheapest and most powerful ways to curb temperature rise in the short term.