Part two of EU climate plan to tackle buildings, methane and natural gas

by Reuters
Wednesday, 15 December 2021 14:28 GMT

Archive photo: A gas pipe is pictured at an underground gas storage facility in the village of Mryn, 120 km (75 miles) north of Kiev May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Image Caption and Rights Information

The EU publishes second set of climate policy proposals with aims to deliver goal for 55% net emissions cut by 2030

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Reuters) - European Union policymakers on Wednesday set out a second set of proposals to cut emissions across its economy this decade and to put it on track for net zero greenhouse gas output by 2050.

In July, the 27-country bloc became the first of the world's major emitters to map out a detailed plan to meet its climate targets with legislative proposals including bigger carbon markets and a phase-out of combustion engine car sales.

The European Commission proposed a second, smaller set of regulations on Wednesday, which is focussed on buildings, methane emissions and natural gas.

Taken together, the measures aim to ensure the EU - the world's third-largest emitter - meets its goal to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, from 1990 levels. By 2019, EU emissions were 24% lower than in 1990.

"Europe needs to turn the page on fossil fuels and move to cleaner energy sources. This includes replacing fossil gas with renewable and low carbon gases," EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said.

Each proposal faces months of tough talks between member states and the European Parliament before becoming law, with countries split over issues such as the role of gas in the transition and how to help fossil fuel-dependent communities.

The measures proposed on Wednesday include a reform of EU gas markets, which aims to integrate low-carbon gases such as hydrogen into the network, but did not offer the firm phase-out plan for fossil gas that campaigners have called for.

MISSED MOMENT ON METHANE?

Europe's natural gas consumption will need to drop in the coming decades to meet climate goals. For now, gas provides around a quarter of EU energy - meaning countries are exposed to volatile prices, which have hit record highs in recent months.

The Commission also proposed a system to allow countries to jointly buy gas to form strategic reserves, which states including Spain have said would help them to secure supply.

And Brussels laid out its first legislation to tackle emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas.

This proposal would force oil and gas operators in the EU to find and fix leaks of methane in their infrastructure, though it did not extend the rules to cover the companies abroad that supply most of Europe's gas.

"We have health and environmental rules for other imports, so why not natural gas?" said Jill Duggan, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund Europe.

"Cutting methane pollution is our best, fastest opportunity to slow the rate of warming... the new EU plan fails to seize the moment."

A third proposal aimed at buildings would require EU countries to renovate millions of properties this decade to save energy.

Roughly 85% of Europe's buildings are expected to be standing in 2050. Most are heated by fossil fuels and have a poor energy performance, meaning widespread renovations are needed to bring them into line with the EU's net zero goal.

To help offset the emissions that cannot easily be cut, Brussels said it would create a system next year to encourage technology and farming methods that remove CO2 from the atmosphere as a first step towards creating a regulated market for carbon removals credits.

The Commission also proposed rules to clamp down on environmental crime, with tougher prison terms and by classing illegal timber trade and illegal ship recycling as such offences.

Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow at think tank Bruegel, said Wednesday's proposals addressed "major stumbling blocks in the EU decarbonisation pathway".

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Alexander Smith)