A new law will apply methane emissions limits to the EU’s oil and gas imports from 2030.
“This first-of-its-kind regulation enables the EU to curb methane emissions in a cost-effective manner, and address venting and flaring of gas, which make economically and environmentally little sense,” said Kadri Simson, EU commissioner for energy. “This will benefit our planet and will also avoid wasted resources in tight global gas markets.”
After carbon dioxide, methane is the biggest greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. It has more than 80 times the warming potential of CO2 over two decades and is responsible for about 30 percent of the rise in global temperatures, highlighting the importance of tackling its impact to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
An informal agreement obliging importers of fossil fuels to match minimum standards from 2030 was struck on Wednesday 15 November.
Teresa Ribera, Spain’s ecological transition minister, celebrated the deal as “a great achievement” that “represents a crucial contribution to climate action”.
“The European Union is finally introducing binding measures to reduce the climate killer methane,” added Jutta Paulus, a Green Party lawmaker from Germany who negotiated the deal on behalf of the European Parliament. “Less methane emissions mean more climate protection and more energy sovereignty.”
Brandon Locke, a methane expert at the Clean Air Task Force, said: “Considering the prospect of an import standard was nothing more than a dream a year ago, this outcome is a major step forward. While we preferred a faster timeline to reduce emissions before 2030, this agreement will nonetheless go a long way to dramatically cut global methane pollution.”
Environmentalist campaign groups such as Climate Action Network (CAN) have also pointed out the agreement’s timing as its “biggest loophole”.
“Applying a methane intensity target only three years after entry into force of this regulation is far too little, too late, as methane emissions from producers outside the EU would risk remaining dangerously high up to 2030,” said Esther Bollendorff, a gas expert at CAN Europe.
The agreement was made two years after Brussels and Washington launched the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 in Glasgow. Since then, 149 countries and the EU have committed to reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030.
The new EU import rules are likely to have an impact on major gas suppliers such as the US, Algeria and Russia. Representatives of these countries, as well as the EU, are expected to meet at the end of this month as part of the COP28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates.
Last month, the International Energy Agency highlighted the importance of reducing methane emissions – something now possible thanks to new and affordable technologies. Its latest report on the topic shows that, while a drop in fossil fuel demand would cut methane emissions, these reductions by themselves would not occur fast enough to meet the world’s climate goals.
Another study from 2022 found that global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70 per cent greater than the amount national governments have officially reported.