European Commission, Environment DG

Strategy Paper for Reducing Methane Emissions


Courtesy of European Commission, Environment DG

The Strategy Paper for reducing methane emissions,which has just been approved by the Commission, describes the contribution man-made methane emissions, both at the global and European level, are making to the greenhouse effect and global warming. Although the focus in the global climate debate has often been on CO2 emissions, the major greenhouse gas, it needs to be underlined that methane is the second most important greenhouse gas and that nearly one fifth of the global greenhouse effect is due to increasing man-made methane emissions.

However, action on methane looks particularly promising given first, that it would take only a 10% reduction in methane emissions to stabilise methane concentrations in the atmosphere, compared to a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions to achieve the same result and secondly due to the short time methane resides in the atmosphere ( 12 - 17 years) compared to CO2 ( 50 - 200 years ) a strategy to reduce methane emissions would have a more immediate impact on the global greenhouse effect compared to CO2.

The strategy paper identifies the best current available technologies that used in conjunction with other policies and measures could effectively redress and reverse the current upward trend in methane emissions. The main focus is on those sectors that make the largest contributions to methane emissions, notably agriculture, waste and energy which in 1990 accounted for 45%, 32% and 23% of EU methane emissions respectively.

In the light of the above elements the Communication then goes on to elaborate a Community strategy to reduce methane emissions in the European Union. A number of reduction options are identified that includes a number of significant and effective EU policy measures, particularly with respect to the three main sectors concerned, that could be considered for mitigating methane emissions. At this stage it is not possible to set out a detailed blueprint specifying concrete actions for mitigating methane emissions at Community levelsince reliable data on the cost-effectiveness of specific measures still need elaboration, nevertheless it is hoped that the options described in strategy paper will open the debate and eventually lead to the most effective policy responses that are urgently required.

As a signatory to the Intergovernmental Framework Convention on Climatic Change the European Community is committed to taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This commitment is recognised in the Community's Fifth Action Programme on the Environment where it is explicitly indicated that action is necessary to counter greenhouse gases with the aim in the particular case of methane to reduce emissions if possible. Most activities and measures undertaken in the fight against the greenhouse effect have concentrated on reducing CO2 and CFC emissions. This Commission communication on methane emissions, formally requested by the Environment Council in December 1994, is an initial response to the need at both the international and Community level to have an effective response to the challenge of global warming which covers all the greenhouse gases.

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