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After methane commitments swell at COP26, questions turn to follow-through

Highlights

Implementation to draw scrutiny at next COP meetings

EDF looking for 'evidence of tangible action'

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  • Maya Weber
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  • COP26 Environment and Sustainability

After more than 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions during the UN Climate Change Conference in November, those nations' concrete steps to meet those goals will be essential to track at COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in UAE, said an official with the Environmental Defense Fund Dec. 7.

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"How are they strengthening their regulations? We'll be looking for evidence of tangible action, along with plans," said Mark Brownstein, senior vice president of energy at the Environmental Defense Fund speaking at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "In the words of Greta Thunberg, 'blah, blah, blah' doesn't get you very far, so what we're looking for in Egypt and the UAE are the steps beyond the words."

Joining an initiative launched by the US and the European Union, over 100 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge to collectively cut methane emission globally 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels, in an effort to keep global temperature increases at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Brownstein said questions remain as to whether the US will follow through on adopting progressive new rules and whether Europe carries out a package to regulate emissions not only at home but on gas that is consumed in the EU.

The US Environmental Protection Agency Nov. 2 proposed tougher methane regulations requiring US oil and gas producers to conduct increased emissions monitoring on new wells and to bring nearly 700,000 older wells into compliance.

EDF has been among those pushing the EPA to strengthen the rules with controls on routine flaring and address leaking abandoned wells, as the EPA takes public comments and mulls supplemental regulation.

Key consumer market

The European Commission Dec. 14 is slated to propose a legislative package on methane emissions with requirements for leak detection and repair, and to address venting and flaring, Brownstein said. Most impactful for global markets, Brownstein said, will be expected European requirements to improve monitoring, measurement, and reporting of emissions.

"Europe does produce oil and gas, but its real impact on this issue is as a gas consumer," he said, noting the region's imports of pipeline gas from Russia as well as LNG imports.

"These improved monitoring, measurement, verification reporting requirements will begin to set the framework for standards that ultimately will impact gas quality in global trade," he said.

S&P Global Platts Analytics estimates that Western European gas demand will reach 7,800 million barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2021, making it the third-largest gas consuming region behind North America and the former Soviet Union.

Brownstein also said he will also be watching for signs of progress in China, despite the fact that it wasn't a signatory to the Global Methane Pledge.

The US and China issued a separate, joint declaration in Glasgow on climate action that described their intent to enhance methane controls and to collaborate on the measurement of methane emissions.

"We know that methane was explicitly mentioned as a pollutant of concern in [China's] new five-year plan," and that China is working on developing a methane strategy to implement the goals of that plan, he said. "We expect to see significant progress in China over the next couple of years," he said. Brownstein noted EDF has had a several-year working partnership with China National Petroleum Company to help them learn new field measurement techniques and deploy them in the field.

While Brownstein said it was "disappointing" that Russia didn't sign onto the Global Methane Pledge, he still saw prospects for action, noting Russian President Vladimir Putin's mention of a need to address methane emissions during a climate summit in Washington in April. In addition, Brownstein expressed optimism that policymakers and the industry in Russia are monitoring developments around methane in the global marketplace and in information technologies.

"One would hope that if Russia isn't a signatory to the pledge in Glasgow, that maybe by the time we get to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, next November, perhaps they will be," he said.