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23rd Jan 2021

EU Commission methane plan lacks binding agriculture targets

  • Over half of methane emissions in the EU come from agriculture (Photo: caese)

The European Commission is seeking to slash methane emissions, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

On Wednesday (14 October), it unveiled a new strategy it says will help meet the 2050 climate change targets as part of its European Green Deal.

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Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European commissioner for energy, Kadri Simson, said methane emissions need to be reduced by a third, in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent over the next decade.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans added the latest plan "ensures emissions cuts in all sectors, especially agriculture, energy, and waste."

But critics say it falls short, noting the lack of reduction targets and obligations by farmers to cut methane output.

Almost 60 percent of methane emissions found in the atmosphere are man-made. In the EU, more than half of that comes from agriculture (53 percent), followed by waste (26 percent) and energy (19 percent).

For the commission, the lack of reliable data first needs to be addressed before targets can be designed.

To tackle the problem, the commission says one of the priorities will be to improve measurement and reporting of methane emissions through "voluntary and business-led initiatives."

It will also require energy firms to repair gas leaks amid future legislative plans to also ban routine flaring and venting.

Not everyone is convinced. Climate Action Network, an NGO, said the commission was dragging its feet to legislate.

"A binding regulation on venting and flaring is foreseen only in 2025," it noted, in a statement.

Others were similarly critical, including German Green MEP Jutta Paulus.

"The European Commission only scratches the surface, and limits itself to minor issues like plugging methane leaks and statistics," she said, in an emailed statement.

Paulus said clear targets are instead needed to cut methane emissions, noting the lack of any binding measures for agriculture.

The commission also said it would look into the oil and gas supply chain.

The EU is the largest importer of fossil gas, with the bulk of it arriving from Russia. But a lot of those emissions are released before ever reaching the EU.

The commission wants to use the "EU's diplomatic and external relations actions" whenever necessary to convince other countries to cut methane emission at source.

Asked how it would convince Russia, the commission says there have been technical discussions with Moscow on leakage with existing pipelines.

"There is still much to be done," admitted Simson.

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