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EU adopts methane strategy to reduce emissions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors

The European Commission adopted an EU strategy to reduce methane emissions, as methane is the second biggest contributor to climate change, after carbon dioxide.

Current policies for non-CO2 emissions are projected to reduce methane emissions in the European Union by 29 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Nevertheless, the 2030 climate target plan’s impact assessment found methane will continue to be the EU’s dominant non-CO2 greenhouse gas. Therefore, stepping up the level of ambition for reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to at least 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 would also require an accelerated effort to tackle methane emissions, with projections indicating a step up needed to 35 per cent to 37 per cent methane emission reductions by 2030 compared to 2005.

“To become the first climate-neutral continent, the European Union will have to cut all greenhouse gases,” said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal. “Methane is the second most powerful greenhouse gas and an important cause of air pollution.”

The strategy presents legislative and non-legislative actions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors, which account for around 95 per cent of methane emissions associated with human activity worldwide.

“It also creates opportunities for rural areas to produce biogas from waste,” continued Mr Timmermans. “The European Union’s satellite technology will enable us to closely monitor emissions and help raise international standards.”

One of the priorities under the strategy is to improve the measurement and reporting of methane emissions. The level of monitoring currently varies between sectors and Member States and across the international community.

“We have adopted today our first strategy to tackle methane emissions since 1996,” added Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson. “While the energy, agriculture and waste sectors all have a role to play, energy is where emissions can be cut the quickest with the least costs. Europe will lead the way, but we cannot do this alone. We need to work with our international partners to address the methane emissions of the energy we import.”

In the energy sector, methane leaks from fossil fuel production sites, transmission systems, ships and distribution systems. Methane is also vented into the atmosphere. Even when burnt, carbon dioxide is released and methane can still escape during flaring as a result of incomplete combustion. According to current estimates, 54 per cent of methane emissions in the energy sector are fugitive emissions from the oil and gas sector, 34 per cent fugitive emissions from the coal sector and 11 per cent from residential and other final sectors.

To reduce methane emissions in the energy sector, an obligation to improve detection and repair of leaks in gas infrastructure will be proposed and legislation to prohibit routine flaring and venting practices will be considered.

The Commission will also improve reporting of emissions from agriculture through better data collection and promote opportunities to reduce emissions with support from the Common Agricultural Policy. Agriculture is the second sector with the highest potential in overall benefits for reducing methane emissions. Methane emissions from livestock originate mainly from ruminant species (80.7 per cent), manure management (17.4 per cent) and rice cultivation (1.2 per cent).

The main focus will be on best practice sharing for innovative methane-reducing technologies, animal diets and breeding management. Targeted research on technology, nature-based solutions and dietary shift will also contribute. Non-recyclable organic human and agricultural waste and residue streams can be utilised to produce biogas, bio-materials and bio-chemicals.

In the waste sector, the main identified sources of methane are uncontrolled emissions of landfill gas in landfill sites, the treatment of sewage sludge and leaks from biogas plants due to poor design or maintenance. The Commission will review the relevant legislation on landfills in 2024.

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