Brussels (Brussels Morning)
Ahead of next month’s COP26 in Glasgow, a challenge is rising. By concluding a global agreement on reducing methane emissions we can provide a new era for the fast-track reduction of GHG emissions.
After the announcement by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and US President Joe Biden of the Global Methane Pledge, the initiative to reduce global methane emissions scheduled for launching at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November in Glasgow, we will have to start working intensively in order to prepare the legislative framework as soon as possible while also engaging with all the relevant stakeholders.
A powerful greenhouse gas, methane warms the planet 80 times as much as carbon dioxide (CO2) does over a 20-year period, before decaying to CO2.
We need to provide a fair, comprehensive and clear legislative framework, setting binding measures and reduction targets, covering all sectors, if we are to achieve a significant reduction in methane emissions in the EU by 2030.
Given how little action has been taken internationally on this issue, the lack of global leadership on the mitigation of methane emissions provides an opportunity for the EU to step forward. Methane emissions reduction should be a top priority for EU climate diplomacy. Action is required preferably within the context of the EU’s diplomatic and external relations. However, this should follow a UN-based pathway to spearhead a binding international agreement on methane mitigation — one that promotes coordinated actions designed to reduce methane emissions, while also strengthening methane mitigation requirements.
It is vital that we proceed with immediate and rapid reductions in methane emissions, paying due attention to economic and social sustainability, since this is one of the most effective measures available to us for EU climate action in this decade. Methane emission reductions complement the necessary reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Many of the emissions cuts required by the Paris Agreement could have been achieved by now with low-cost and technically feasible methane mitigation.
Following the recent climate agreement with the US, this represents our last best hope if we are to coalesce the world to move in the right direction. It is time to negotiate a binding global agreement on methane mitigation. The COP26 meeting in Glasgow is next in line to expand on the modelled pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C from the IPCC 1.5°C Special Report, the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and the 2021 United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Methane Global Assessment.
UNEP´s Global Methane Assessment (2021) monetised global benefits for all market and non-market impacts at approximately 4,300 dollars per tonne of methane reduced and estimated that some 1,430 annual premature deaths could be prevented for every million tonnes reduced. Therefore, an impact assessment accompanying the upcoming legislative proposal should consider the costs of the proposed measures and actions and then compare them with the costs arising from inaction or delayed action.
More than half of global methane emissions stem from human activity in three sectors: energy, waste, and agriculture. In this framework, it is important to proceed with an ambitious revision of our environmental legislation. All methane emitting sectors must reduce their emissions. At the same time, we need to ensure a just transition for those sectors likely to suffer the socio-economic effects of methane emission reductions. This applies especially to agriculture. We need to incentivise farmers and SMEs to adapt but must keep in mind that this requires providing them with assurances that viable alternatives in the form of innovative best practices are in place.
Stricter methane regulatory measures should strive to achieve significant emissions reductions swiftly and as cost-effectively as possible. They should also provide incentives and support to companies to encourage them to achieve performance standards in an optimal manner, while fully respecting the “polluter pays” principle.
A strong, independent, and scientifically rigorous Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system is central to addressing methane emissions. It is essential in order to provide credible data and to identify issues and measures to address them that are both relevant and efficient. MRV is key to assessing the progress achieved. A mandatory MRV system would also improve member state reporting to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
A strong Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programme is a critical element of the EU’s strategy to reduce methane emissions and to achieve the EU climate and environment goals. We also have to support the establishment of an independent international methane emissions observatory, in partnership with UNEP, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
By the end of 2021, the EU should – in cooperation with sectoral experts and member states – develop an inventory of best practices and available technologies to explore and promote the wider uptake of innovative, mitigating actions. There should be a special focus on methane coming from enteric fermentation. This requires establishing a framework to incentivise and reward farmers, along with the entire value chain and especially frontrunners, for their efforts.
Reducing methane now will avoid nearly 0.3 C of warming by 2045. The immediate implementation of methane reduction measures on human sources of methane could reduce methane emissions by as much as 45% by 2030. That would vastly reduce the formation of and exposure to ground-level ozone.
As the President of the Commission has declared: “On the road to COP26, we will reach out to global partners to bring as many as possible on board for tackling methane emissions. With the EU Green Deal and EU Methane Strategy, we are ready to lead the way “
Now is the time to act! By reducing methane emissions we can get a quick win for protecting our people and the environment. Let’s do it!