Climate: what progress in reducing methane emissions?

The IPCC reminded us of this a few months ago and the WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, more recently. Methane (CH4) is the second largest contributor to global warming that we know of today. Flavia Sollazzo, Senior Director, EU Energy Transition, for the NGO Environmental Defense Fund Europe, tells us how our leaders took up the issue. The will is there. All that is missing are concrete actions.

The last Greenhouse Gas Bulletin published by WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, in early November 2022 underlines this. Not since the beginning of the measurements almost 40 years ago, the concentrations of methane (CH4) in our atmosphere have been so high. Even more worrying is the marked acceleration in the rate of increase in these concentrations. With increases in 2020 and 2021 greater than any year since 1983.

After COP27, the 27e Conference of signatory parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has just ended in Sharm el Sheikh, this is an opportunity for the non-governmental organization (NGO) Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE) to take stock of the Global Methane Pledgethe reduction agreement emissionsemissions of methane signed by 103 countries at COP26.

Methane, a major contributor to global warming

Because remember that methane is a greenhouse gasgreenhouse gas (GHG) with a warming power more than 80 times greater than that of carbon dioxidecarbon dioxide (CO2) if we consider a durationduration 20 year life. Experts estimate that 30% of current climate change is attributable to CH4. Which makes it neither more nor less than the second greenhouse gas responsible for global warmingglobal warmingafter CO2.

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In addition to its warming power, methane (CH4) is also a precursor gas of ozone (O3) tropospheric, a polluting gas harmful to health. Thus, reducing our methane emissions could also help preserve the health of the inhabitants of our planet. Nearly 1,500 premature deaths could be avoided by eliminating just one tonne of CH4 in the air.

WMO experts recognize this. It remains difficult to identify the causes of the observed increase in CH emissions4 especially for two years. This could be essentially of biogenic origin. Coming, for example, from increased decomposition of mattermatter organic matter in wetlands which, under the effect of climate change, are becoming warmer and wetter.

“Simple solutions, already available” that should be put in place to mitigate global warming

It is nonetheless important to work to reduce direct anthropogenic emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas. And especially in the sector ofenergyenergy. “This sector is a bit like the “low-hanging fruit” of CH emissions4 which themselves are the “low-hanging fruit” of GHG emissions”comments for us Flavia Sollazzo, Senior Director, EU Energy Transition for the non-governmental organization (NGO) Environmental Defense Fund Europe (EDFE).

The term “low-hanging fruit” designating a goal that is easy to achieve since we have the technologies to reduce methane emissions. It is the image of the fruit that hangs the lowest and is therefore the easiest to pick. Because reducing CH emissions4 will have both a rapid and proportionally large effect on global warming. Due to the significant warming power of this GHG in the short term.

Reducing emissions from the energy sector

“Agreements are multiplying and technical solutions are available. All that is needed are concrete actions. We need it. Because reducing our methane emissions takes time. And that time, we don’t have any more. 2030 is already tomorrow. » The agreements are multiplying? Yes. First of all, “a few additional countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge over the past year. Among them, some big emitters like Australia”explains Flavia Sollazzo. “The United States introduced its own program to reduce emissions of CH4 last summer. During the COP, the ministerial meeting of the Global Methane Pledge showed that all over the world, the dangers associated with methane emissions are slowly but surely creeping in. For example, Canada, the world’s fourth largest producer of oiloil and gas, announced new commitments and even China made an intervention on national plans”.

If we work together, the goals of the Paris Agreement are still within reach

Europe is no exception. She made her proposals in the wake of the Global Methane Pledge. “As a major importer of gas, what we do in this area really matters”, emphasizes Flavia Sollazzo. Before calling for display for Europe, the same ambitions as those ofOil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 signed in 2020 under the aegis of the United Nations Environment ProgramUnited Nations Environment Program (A P). “If the world’s major oil and gas companies agree on these standards, it’s good that they feel they can achieve it. »

A new important diplomatic step taken on the occasion of this COP27, a joint statement by importers and exporters of energy on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fuelsfuels fossils. “It is encouraging to see these different countries joining forces and confirming their commitment. If we work together, the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climateclimate are still at handassures us Flavia Sollazzo. We now look forward to seeing this translate into concrete obligations in terms of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV), leak detection and repair (LDAR) and limiting the practices of ventilationventilation and flaring. The coming year will be crucial. »

More lost resources than actual methane emissions

So, let’s come back to the more technical aspect of the question. Experts from the NGO EDFE argue that the technologies already available on the market could quite easily reduce methane emissions from the energy sector by 45% by 2030. How? By finally acting only on two or three essential levers.

The detection and repair of leaks, first of all. Yes, you read well. There are methane leaks in the pipelinespipelines. Leaks, moreover, are easy to repair. And according to the NGO EDFE, switching to monthly monitoring of pipelines which are currently only visited quarterly could be enough to reduce CH emissions by 10%.4. If all leaking components are repaired. including those responsible for “small” leaks and which are, so far, not covered by the proposed legislation.

In video: the sources of methane in the world

“Repairing leaks has a cost, you might say. And in times of energy crisis, difficult to afford to invest in the maintenance of pipelines? Yet the benefits could be double. Not only for the climate, but also for wallets. Because already two years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that repairing leaks could be done at a neutral cost. Less methane that goes into the atmosphere, it is indeed as much more methane to sell to the consumer. One of Europe’s suggestions in its REPowerEU plan is also to guarantee those who invest to limit leaks, to buy the CH4 thus preserved. »

In the same spirit, two practices in the sector seem to be banned: evacuation and flaring of methane. “Companies have historically practiced gas venting and flaring for the sake of pressurepressure to be kept in the pipelines. But, in fact, it turns out that it is not that essential. Companies also use it when methane is for them only a co-product which they have nothing to do with”, explains Flavia Sollazzo. In the current context, this no longer seems really appropriate. Neither from a climatic point of view, nor even from an economic point of view. Thus, evacuation and flaring should, in the future, only be authorized in exceptional emergency situations. “Energy security and ecological transition are not mutually exclusive. They even come together. And they can go together. Those who don’t understand it are wrong.”concludes Flavia Sollazzo.

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