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Can imported methane emissions be regulated?

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► “We must achieve a critical mass of States”

Paul Malliet, Economist at the environmental division of the OFCE

“The hunt for methane leaks has seen progress in recent years with technologies that make it possible to precisely monitor the declarations of companies, wherever they are, on the level of their methane emissions.

→ READ. Climate: satellites to track methane

European regulations, currently being drafted, want to create a toolbox to prevent these fugitive emissions but only on its soil, which sometimes means that the text is below the stakes. In fact, it is difficult to put in place instruments to control and penalize methane emissions imported into Europe, as shown by the implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism. This involves establishing the level of leakage caused by each product manufactured outside the European Union (EU). We know how to do this for carbon emissions, but the methodology is not perfect for methane.

In addition, there is a risk for Europe of seeing its imported emissions increase because the war in Ukraine will lead it to abandon Russian gas and oil in favor of American production – largely based on oil and shale gas. –, more emitting than conventional products due, in particular, to fugitive methane emissions.

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→ READ. Fuels, waste, livestock… How to reduce methane emissions

The good news is that at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, Washington pledged, alongside the EU, Brazil and Indonesia in particular, to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 – that’s the Global Methane Pledge. China has signed a bilateral agreement to this effect with Washington. Russia, the largest emitter with 60 million tonnes, and India – 30 million tonnes – are not committed. The challenge is to achieve a critical mass of States to have a rapid and significant impact on the climate and create a ripple effect. »

► “Europe is only dealing with a small part of the problem”

Maxim Beaugrand, director of the Paris office of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

“The regulatory text on which the European Union has been working for several years, with the aim of reducing methane emissions, is obviously insufficient since it only concerns domestic emissions. But the EU imports 90% of its gas: it is therefore clear that the text lacks ambition since it will only concern a small part of the problem. That being said, the EU has the ability to send a strong signal to the market. In other words, “We advance while walking!”

I note other steps in the right direction, such as the “Global Methane Pledge”, this initiative of the EU and the United States announced in Glasgow in November 2021, during COP26, rallied by 117 countries with the objective ( non-binding) to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

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In my view, methane would require a global agreement on the model of the Montreal Protocol, which came into force in 1989, which had protected the ozone layer by banning CFC gases in particular. It is the agreement that has proven to be the most effective to date. We could apply his model to methane emissions: first establish a general framework, then successive protocols by sector, first that of methane linked to fossil fuels, then that of waste, and finally that of agriculture (area most complicated to grasp). Let’s move forward with willing countries to move forward, since the fossil fuel technology is available. Even the producing companies are asking for regulation, provided that it is done in an internationally coordinated manner. »

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