On Tuesday, May 9, the European Parliament’s plenary adopted its position on the EU methane regulation proposal.
This is a good result, considering the plenary’s vote had been overshadowed by the threat of the adoption of some worrying amendments from some MEPs in the EPP and ID (European People’s Party and Identity and Democracy) groups. These would have dramatically weakened key elements of the report as adopted in the European Parliament’s ITRE (Energy) and ENVI (Environment) committees at the end of April, by favouring the interests of the fossil fuel industry through weakening provisions on leak detection and repair (LDAR) and energy imports.
Fortunately, this did not happen. In its position, the European Parliament calls on the European Commission to set binding targets to reduce methane emissions for 2030 and implements strict rules on imported fossil gas, coal and oil from 2026 onwards. Additionally, the parliament’s position extends the provisions of the regulation to the petrochemical sector, which is becoming the largest driver of global oil demand.
Let’s not sweep problems under the rug
Although this is a very good outcome, some concerns spoil the party:
- No mention of fossil fuel phase-out
In the Parliament’s text there is no mention of a phase-out of fossil fuels in the longer term. Contrary to what signatories asked for in our methane manifesto, rapid actions to cut methane emissions from fossil fuels are crucial in the short-term, but these need to be coupled with strong commitments towards a path to deliver a fossil-free European Union. In 2021, the European Parliament in its INI report on the EU Methane Strategy, clearly recognised that fossil fuels have no long-term role in the Union’s energy mix. But this is not reflected in the final parliamentary position adopted this week.
- No fracked gas import ban
The EU Parliament’s request for stricter measures on imports is an important step forward compared to the Commission and Council’s positions, but a clear focus on the need to stop imports of fracked gas is missing. Most of the U.S. Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) exported to Europe is produced by fracking, a technology which is banned across much of the EU due to its environmental impacts. Fracking is closely tied to the rise of methane emissions in the atmosphere, besides posing a serious threat to public health and local communities. However, U.S. fracked gas imports to Europe skyrocketed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the European Parliament had the opportunity in its report to call for an immediate ban on those imports.
- Major loopholes for coal mine methane emissions
Following strong pressure from the Polish coal industry, the European Parliament revised downwards its ambition on coal mine methane emissions. However, coal mines are the largest single source of energy sector methane emissions in the EU.
Amendments adopted in plenary suggest an increase in venting thresholds for thermal coal, while action on venting from coking coal is delayed until 2031. The rules will allow Polish mining companies to easily comply with the regulation through accounting tricks rather than any actual methane reductions.
- There’s always danger lurking in the dark
The imminent start of trilogue negotiations in the summer with the Council and the European Commission are one more opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to scuttle these regulations. The Council’s general approach has more holes than Swiss cheese and blatantly benefits the interests of fossil companies. It will be vital to safeguard and strengthen the parliament’s position, and to ensure that the trilogue final text is not a lowball agreement, but one that truly serves the interests of the planet and the people.