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The vital importance of steep methane cuts is clear thanks to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s (CCAC) Global Methane Assessment which shows that human-caused methane emissions can be reduced by 45 per cent this decade. One of the most cost-effective ways to tackle this short-lived climate pollutant, which could avert more than 0.3 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050, is by targeting the fossil fuel sector.
Fulfilling this potential, however, requires a regulatory and policy environment that can enforce the scale of change necessary to address the gravity of the climate and clean air crisis. The CCAC is working with leaders around the world, such as Nigeria, Mexico, and the European Commission, to reach these goals.
“The Global Methane Assessment has shown the way,” said Brendan Devlin, Counsellor at the Directorate General for Energy European Commission. “With good policy, political will, and dedication we can do these things. Internationally, we have to do these things and we have to deliver in a very short time frame.”
The fossil fuel sector is ripe for opportunity when it comes to cutting methane emissions. Not only is it responsible for one third of man-made methane emissions, many cuts in the sector could be done at low or negative cost, including through strategies like leak detection and repair of pipelines and infrastructure.
The fact that methane is a primary ingredient in the air pollutant ground-level ozone (the main ingredient in smog) means it could also prevent 260,000 premature deaths and 25 million tonnes of crop losses every year.
“The world more broadly recognizes that methane is by far the top priority short-lived climate pollutant to tackle,” said Alice Alpert from the U.S. State Department’s Climate Office. “But to keep 1.5 degrees within reach and prevent dangerous warming, deep methane reductions are as important as carbon reductions in the near term.”
Mexico has introduced a broad range of best practices to reduce emissions. In 2018, the country published the Regulation to control methane emissions from the Hydrocarbon Sector to achieve the goals set out in the North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership to achieve 50 per cent clean power generation by 2025 in the hemisphere and to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40- 45 percent by 2025.
“The political commitment to mitigate methane emissions is essential and having that commitment from our political leaders is essential,” said Dora Lopez Llanes, General Director at ASEA.
The CCAC supported capacity building at the ASEA (Agencia de Seguridad, Energía y Ambiente of the government of Mexico) to successfully implement these commitments and Mexico consulted the CCAC in developing the regulations.
Llanes says the regulations were aligned to best practices to control the main sources of methane emissions, specifically venting, flaring, and leaking. This occurs through a variety of strategies, including mandating leak detection and repair on a quarterly basis and internal and external audits done by third parties to ensure regulators are complying.
Llanes says that one useful strategy was that the regulation distinguished between new and existing facilities because not all of them have the same structures or the same processes and therefore require different regulations.
For Mexico, the developmental impacts of methane reductions add further impetus for regulating this sector.
“It’s necessary to have an effective legal framework, not only to have an impact on cutting emissions and tackling climate change but also for sustainable development because when we contribute to tackling emissions we also contribute to avoiding catastrophic effects that climate change imposes on vulnerable countries and places within countries,” said Llanes.
In 2019, Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire joined the Global Methane Alliance, committing to slash oil and gas methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025 and 60-70 per cent by 2030. Nigeria doubled down on this pledge in its recent NDC submission to the UNFCCC by committing to cutting by 60 per cent by 2031.
Nigeria is working on building off its success on reducing gas flaring, which was already reduced by 70 per cent from 2000 levels as a result of successful government policies. This includes the Nigeria Gas Flare Commercialization Programme in October 2016, the National Gas Policy in June 2017, and further gas flare regulation in 2018 that increased flaring fines. The next goal, which was included in their NDCs, is to fully eliminate the practice by 2030.
“The success that Nigeria has had in reducing flaring is often overlooked,” said Jonathan Banks, the International Director of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). “When I first started looking into the huge impact that Nigeria has had in reducing flaring I was quite impressed and I'm excited by Nigeria's efforts to take those successful experiments and turn them towards reducing methane emissions.”
Fugitive methane mitigation is currently a major focus for Nigeria, a challenging area of intervention given the lack of domestic data and the fact that there’s no policy or regulation to address methane.
To help achieve their NDC targets, Nigeria conducted several in-country workshops to build stakeholder capacity, developed a baseline for fugitive methane, identified mitigation measures, and took steps to develop policy to reduce methane emissions in the sector. Nigeria also has draft guidelines to address methane that will help provide a sense of direction and best practices for methane mitigation that is undergoing stakeholder review.
“The issue of addressing methane is in its early stages but is receiving the right attention, we have the stakeholders on board from the government and the private sector,” said Asmau Jibril, Chief Scientific Officer at the Federal Ministry of Environment of Nigeria. “The government is committed to addressing its greenhouse gas emissions, especially as it relates to methane reduction in the oil and gas sector by building on its success from flaring.”
The degree of change required remains a massive undertaking. Devlin outlined a variety of necessary measures, including mandating leak detection and repair as well as measurement reporting and verification (MRV), and the incorporation of methane emissions into supply indexes to make it clear where methane is being emitted and who is responsible— all actions that the CCAC is helping to coordinate with member countries.
“That’s one of the great things that the CCAC and other organizations like the CCAC bring to this space is the ability to connect with policy makers and experts from around the world that can help facilitate movement on policy development in your own country,” said Jibril.
There are a variety of tools and resources available to help achieve these goals. The IEA Regulatory Roadmap and Toolkit is a guide to help policy makers establish a new regulation. The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 includes a global roadmap for making the drastic methane cuts necessary to avoid catastrophic warming. These guides can help countries with the difficult aspects of tackling this formidable challenge, from understanding their individual legal and political context, to developing an emissions profile, to building regulatory capacity and drafting policy, to enforcing compliance and reviewing and refining policy.
While sharp methane reductions will be a challenge, a growing number of countries are recognizing the major benefits and necessity of action.
“It’s really, really cost effective when compared to other actions on climate change,” said Tomás de Oliveira Bredariol, Energy and Environmental Policy Analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA). “We need effort to fulfil the potential of methane reductions: Governments really need to step up policy efforts with methane regulation, driving early action and performance improvement while considering the means of enforcement and the possibility of innovation in methane management.”
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