UK industry welcomes COP26 global methane cuts pledge

The waste sector has welcomed a 100-country initiative to slash methane emissions this decade, which was agreed at COP26 this week, while the oil and gas industry says it plans to make faster and deeper cuts.

Signed by 100 countries so far, the Global Methane Pledge led by the EU and US commits participants to reducing emissions of the gas by 30% on 2020 levels by 2030. But China, Russia and India, responsible for about a third of global emissions of the gas, are holding out.

Jacob Hayler, the executive director of the Environmental Services Association, said that the waste and resources sector will have to do its part to meet the objective, considering that methane is the largest contributor to its emissions. The industry is responsible for about 8% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, though has a voluntary target to reach net zero by 2040, a decade in advance of the national objective.

“Although our members have invested significantly in landfill methane gas capture, the greenhouse gases arising from landfill are still the second largest contributor to our sector’s emissions, so the ESA’s Net Zero strategy establishes an ambitious, but credible, objective to remove organic waste inputs from landfill by 2030. 

“In support of this, since the publication of our strategy, DEFRA has indicated that it intends to ban biodegradable municipal waste from landfill by 2028, with Scotland implementing a ban in 2025,” said Hayler.

But more investment in waste management will clearly be needed to meet the ‘30x30’ target. “Banning material from landfill is just one piece of the puzzle and places pressure on other strategies and treatment infrastructure to avoid and treat these waste streams – which wider resources and waste policy must reconcile and support,” he added.

“COP26 offers an opportunity for governments around the world not just to focus on landfill, but to grasp the huge wider opportunities for carbon saving offered by implementing policy-drivers and targets that support greater resource-efficiency and a more circular global economy,” Hayler said, indicating that the policies to deliver the target could have compound benefits.

Agriculture, particularly animal husbandry, is an even larger contributor to the UK’s methane emissions.

However, “British farmers are already playing an important role,” said NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts, sharing the same 2040 net zero objective with the waste industry.

“Many of our members have already put in place measures to reduce livestock methane emissions; for example, trialling feed supplements or improving their productivity. It is interesting to hear at COP26 how other countries, including the United States, will be providing incentives to reward farmers for reducing emissions. We believe this approach should be included in future domestic policy, as well as supporting innovation within the sector, and we look forward to the UK government’s proposals on how it will work with farmers to achieve this goal,” he said.

The UK’s methane emissions have fallen dramatically over the past three decades, falling from the equivalent of 134m tonnes of CO2 to 54m in 2019. But the pace of reduction has slackened lately.

The third major contributor to methane emissions is the energy sector, from incomplete flaring and from pipeline leaks. But according to Oil & Gas UK’s emissions improvement manager Thibaut Cheret, these have already been reduced sharply. 

He said that the UK’s offshore sector will go further than 30x30 by halving methane release within eight years, on a 2018 baseline, having already been halved since 1990. The industry signed up to the ‘Methane Guiding Principles’ last month, promising to end routine flaring by 2030 and positioning itself as a global leader on managing methane.

“Methane is one of the worst greenhouse gases, so reducing emissions has immediate benefits that reductions in CO2 alone cannot achieve. This plan means the UK industry can contribute to emissions reductions while continuing to produce the energy the UK will need for the future. We hope to see companies and other industries around the world adopting a similar approach, developing their own comprehensive guidelines to accelerate the drive for net zero and reposition for a sustainable future.”

One way to identify releases is through the use of monitoring drones, now being pioneered by Neptune Energy in the North Sea. It has just announced the conclusion of an initial survey, run in conjunction with the US-based Environmental Defense Fund at its Cygnus platform. The results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal next year.

The firm’s vice president of operations Europe, Pete Jones, said: “The abatement of methane emissions will be crucial in meeting the Paris Agreement goals and, given the short lifespan of methane emissions, we know that taking meaningful action today can bring positive results in as little as nine years.

“Proactive action by the UK offshore industry including the reduction of flaring and venting contributed towards an 11% fall in upstream greenhouse gas emissions between 2018 and 2020. By using advanced, existing technologies and novel approaches such as those employed in this latest study, the UK sector can continue to lead the way in driving down methane emissions.”