Why the European Green Deal needs strong methane regulations

By Maarten Wetselaar on euractiv.com

Oil and gas companies throughout the supply chain need to do much more to bring down methane emissions immediately. And they can, writes Maarten Wetselaar.

Maarten Wetselaar is the integrated gas & new energies director at Shell.

Much is uncertain in the world since COVID-19, but one thing remains constant – the need to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius.

Many governments have made it clear they will keep pursuing this goal and the European Commission continues to drive forward the Green Deal. This is a set of policies and regulations which focus on achieving net-zero emissions in the EU by 2050.

Governments can’t tackle this alone. Companies also need to take action. For its part, Shell has set a new ambition to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner.

Whether they come from governments or companies, initiatives to tackle climate change commonly focus on carbon dioxide (CO2). Reducing CO2 is right, it must continue… and it is not enough.

Methane (CH4) emissions must also be a core part of any holistic plan to successfully limit global warming. It is a potent greenhouse gas that has a much higher near-term impact on global warming than CO2 when it is released into the atmosphere.

This is why oil and gas companies throughout the supply chain need to do so much more to bring down methane emissions immediately. And they can. Cost-effective technologies are available to find and fix methane leaks, for example, for the entire industry. Actions can – and must – be taken right now.

Some parts of the energy industry are making strides. Shell set its own target to keep its methane emissions intensity, for operated oil and gas assets (including liquefied natural gas), below 0.20% by 2025. Voluntary actions like these are right, they must continue… and they are still not enough.

This is why last month, Shell – alongside, BP, the Environmental Defense Fund, Eni, Equinor, the Florence School of Regulation, Repsol, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Total and Wintershall Dea – shared recommendations with the European Commission, proposing policies to reduce emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry.

EU leadership matters. Given almost half of all international traded gas in the world is imported by Europe, there is a compelling opportunity for Europe to significantly reduce worldwide methane emissions – within its borders as well as from its gas imports.

To start, policies are more effective if it is clear precisely what the problem is. So, high quality, verified data on methane emissions are needed. This is why, between now and 2023, we – all companies and organisations behind the recommendations – propose introducing a robust standard for monitoring, reporting and verifying these emissions.

During this period, we believe the EU can immediately benefit from introducing regulations that set standards for technologies and methods to reduce methane emissions, such as leak detection and repair.

Turning to the longer-term, we recommend applying a performance standard from 2025, aiming to produce gas at a methane intensity no higher than 0.20%, with targets also to be set for other segments of the supply chain.

Further, from 2025, we see the need for a procurement standard that encourages a continual reduction of methane emissions intensity of natural gas entering import or domestic supply chains. These standards are essential to assure the environmental integrity for any natural gas used in the EU.

Despite all the uncertainty around us, the EU has an opportunity to bring regulatory certainty to bear on an urgent climate issue. All greenhouse gases are included in the EU’s net-zero goal. Bringing down CO2 is a core part of this pursuit. But it is only one part.

Regulating emissions of methane, another important greenhouse gas, is equally critical for delivering on the EU’s Green Deal. I hope our recommendations can contribute to the policies that are necessary to start bringing down these emissions in and beyond the EU.

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