Harnessing Europe’s climate diplomacy and energy policy to drive down methane worldwide

With the forthcoming EU Methane Strategy and a flurry of other energy proposals expected in the coming months, Europe has an incredible opportunity to lead — not just domestically but internationally — when it comes to reducing oil and gas methane emissions.

This is the single most effective thing we can do to limit temperature rise in the near term as we transition to a climate neutral future over the coming decades.

Europe’s leadership on methane emissions would be based on its market position as the largest importer of internationally traded gas in the world, as well as its strong technical expertise and ambition for climate action.

Unlike some other issues where policy objectives can run up against the cold hard realities of international politics, Europe’s market position provides the EU with leverage to shape behavior and actions beyond its borders.

As such, in using that leverage wisely, Europe has an enormous opportunity to transform methane emissions into an issue that is truly global in scope and significantly boost international ambition on climate change by fostering a cooperative, positive global dynamic on methane.

This is of even greater significance given current transatlantic tensions in the field of energy and the tit-for-tat threat of sanctions — regulating methane emissions is not only a boon for climate protection, it can also help underpin national security.

The EU can do it in two important ways

First, the EU can set a stringent performance standard on methane emissions for all gas produced in or imported into Europe, helping shape expectations for producers on what major consumers demand for globally traded gas, and incentivizing the reduction of methane emissions from the value chain.

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Doing so would underline Europe’s stated desire to lead on the global development of hydrogen and other green gases — as enunciated in the European Commission’s recent Hydrogen Strategy. For Europe to move to hydrogen and other green gases — which is no small technological challenge — it must also demonstrate the political will to clean up methane where the technical solutions are well-known and available and the economic costs very manageable, as my colleague Mark Brownstein explained in July.

Second will be the work the EU can do to support the structures and processes that encourage other countries to act on methane.

The European Commission is providing the seed funding to launch later this year an International Methane Emissions Observatory under the UN Environment Programme.

The goals of the new Observatory will be to:

  1. Act as a central resource for technical and policy assistance to countries developing methane regulation, facilitating ambitious reduction targets and guiding effective policy worldwide.
  2. Generate insights and actions that rely on four data streams: science data, company asset data, country data, and satellite data.
  3. Reduce methane emissions on a global scale by scaling up and evolving UNEP’s three existing methane reduction initiatives.

Once countries decide to act on methane emissions, this new Observatory will be a critical resource for success. As such, it should be an important part of Europe’s overall climate diplomacy.

Global coalition

At COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, the biggest issue will be ambition. We must ensure a result that shows clearly that the nations of the world commit, in line with the science, to accelerating action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A clear and unambiguous statement by a group of influential countries assembled through EU leadership provides a new foundation for strengthened global engagement to tackle fossil methane emissions in 2021 and beyond. The recently established UNEP-backed Global Methane Alliance provides an ideal platform for member countries to explicitly incorporate oil and gas methane abatement into their Nationally Determined Commitments under the Paris Agreement and raise global climate ambition.

EDF encourages as broad participation as possible, taking into account geographic diversity, developed and developing country producers and consumers, and ability to serve as regional leaders.

Thus, just as Europe is in a position to leverage its market position through a performance standard to drive emissions reductions of its suppliers, it can and should also harness its climate diplomacy to encourage others to see that reducing fossil methane emissions is a fast and cost-effective way for them to enhance their climate ambition.