Canada set a high bar globally when the country announced new standards Monday to crack down on planet-warming methane emissions, say observers.

The federal government released draft regulations that will effectively ban oil and gas companies from venting or flaring methane and impose more stringent monitoring requirements to reduce the release of this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

The proposed changes position Canada at the forefront of global efforts to reduce methane emissions, but the changes must be adopted quickly along with other complementary climate policies, politicians and environmental groups urge.

“This is a really critical step,” said Green Party MP Mike Morrice in a phone interview with Canada’s National Observer. “I wish it had happened seven years ago… The Prime Minister stood on the White House lawn with (former U.S. president) Barack Obama in 2016 talking about jointly tackling methane emissions.

“We know methane is responsible for around 30 per cent of the current rise in global average temperatures… Reducing and eliminating methane is one of the most cost-effective ways to take action on climate.”

The draft regulations tighten emissions-monitoring requirements for companies. These include more frequent leak-detection monitoring and requiring annual third-party audits to verify results reported by companies. The new measures — which deliver on Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault’s 2022 commitment to reduce national methane emissions at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030 — will be rolled out in early 2027.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 86 times more powerful than carbon for the first 20 years in the atmosphere. About half of the methane released in Canada comes from oil and gas facilities, according to the federal government.

“Reducing methane by 75 per cent is fully a third of what the Canadian oil and gas sector needs to do in terms of overall emission reductions by 2030,” Rick Smith, president of the Canadian Climate Institute, told Canada’s National Observer at this year’s annual United Nations climate conference in Dubai. “It makes everything else easier and it’s a big first step.”

“To fix the methane problem, you don’t need to discover a new technology. You just need to be determined as a government, as a regulator, as the Canadian government is today,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), at Guilbeault’s announcement in Dubai.

This announcement matters to the world, not just Canada, because the country is the fourth-largest producer of oil and gas, said Guilbeault.

“I think we’re seeing here the beginning of a global movement toward almost eliminating methane emission from the oil and gas sector,” said Guilbeault. He noted 15 Canadian oil companies committed to reaching near-zero methane emissions by 2030, followed by commitments from 50 international companies.

Reducing methane emissions is widely seen as low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change because it doesn’t require new technology, is cost-effective and makes an immediate impact.

To attain the IEA’s net-zero scenario, it would cost US$75 billion from now until 2030 to deploy all methane abatement measures in the oil and gas sector.

“If you ask me if it’s a lot of money or not, I will tell you definitely not, especially if you consider last year [when] oil and gas industry revenues hit a historical record of US$4 trillion,” Birol told reporters in Dubai. “US$75 billion is only two per cent of those revenues, which I believe companies and the governments need to invest to address this very important potent greenhouse gas.”

Regulations must ensure the oil and gas sector bears the cost of reducing its methane emissions, not Canadians, said Morrice.

One of the biggest challenges is widespread underreporting. In 2022, the IEA found global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70 per cent higher than reported by official data.

“We have new analysis showing that oil and gas companies in Alberta and Saskatchewan are releasing four times more methane than what they’re currently reporting to the government, so we need to ensure any commitments these companies are making are inclusive of current leaks that aren’t already being reported,” said Morrice.

Guilbeault announced $30 million to establish a global centre for excellence on methane detection and elimination, first promised in 2021 on the campaign trail. The Methane Centre of Excellence will be a hub for improving data collection and measurement of methane emissions.

“The fact that the current data on methane emissions do not reflect reality is no surprise: industry self-reporting — namely by the fossil-fuel industry — is a problem that cannot be understated,” said Bloc Québécois environment critic Monique Pauzé in a statement to Canada’s National Observer.

“Having reliable measurements and independent data on emissions is certainly essential and requiring annual audits carried out by independent third parties is a step in the right direction,” the MP for Repentigny said. “At the top of the fossil fuel industry’s wish list is the word ‘deregulation,’ so we can expect much lobbying on this federal announcement.”

Pauzé also said she is concerned the regulations aren’t scheduled to come into effect until 2027.

“Aren’t we in a climate emergency?” she asked.

Monday’s announcement is a step forward but “more needs to be done to ensure the big oil and gas companies who’ve been getting even richer off the backs of Canadians are doing their part to tackle the climate crisis,” said NDP environment critic Laurel Collins in a statement to Canada’s National Observer. “New Democrats want to see a strong oil and gas emissions cap come out of COP28. The Liberals have promised it for two years. It’s past time they deliver.”

Conservative environment critic Gérard Deltell did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Although methane regulations will make a big impact, “they won’t single-handedly bring down the emissions from the oil and gas industry, which continue to rise,” said Morrice. As Morrice and environmental groups like Climate Action Network state, the best way to fully eliminate methane pollution is by phasing out fossil fuel production and ending all investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure.

— With files from John Woodside

By Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 06, 2023 at 07:20

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario

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