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Commission strategy for reducing methane emissions

The European Commission has approved a strategy paper for reducing man-made methane emissions in the EU. The paper focuses especially on methane produced by the agriculture, waste and energy sectors which account for the great majority of EU methane emissions. The initiative d...
The European Commission has approved a strategy paper for reducing man-made methane emissions in the EU. The paper focuses especially on methane produced by the agriculture, waste and energy sectors which account for the great majority of EU methane emissions. The initiative demonstrates the importance the Commission attaches to implementing policies that effectively address the issue of global climate change.

Methane (CH4) is the second most important greenhouse gas, after CO2, and accounts for nearly one fifth of the global greenhouse effect. Being an active gas it traps heat and inhibits its release into space increasing atmospheric and earth surface temperatures. The strategy developed in the Commission's paper could secure methane emission reductions of around 30% by 2005, and 40% by 2010. It concentrates on the reduction of organic waste, and the use and recovery of methane as a source of energy.

The Commission's strategy paper builds and expands on actions which are already being taken at both EU and national level to reduce methane emissions. It identifies the best current available technologies that, used with other policies and measures at EU level, could contribute to reversing the current upward trend in EU methane emissions.

Agriculture, waste and energy account for practically all of the EU's methane emissions, their share being 45%, 32% and 23% respectively. Reduction options for these sectors are identified in the strategy paper. Such options include a number of promising areas where EU action to reduce methane emissions could soon produce significant results.

As regards municipal waste EU legislation could be put in place aimed at reducing the amount of organic waste generated throughout the EU. There could also be regulatory measures requiring all new landfills to be equipped with methane recovery and use systems. Even existing landfills wherever possible should be required to put in place methane recovery processes.

In agriculture there are possibilities of developing manure-to-energy facilities that could resolve a growing and complex waste problem. A first step would be to establish the viability of certain technologies through EU demonstration projects that would reduce methane emissions and at the same time provide useful energy. If these technologies are proven and cost-effective, obligatory introduction of such technologies in large-scale husbandry units could be considered.

The Commission Communication on methane emissions, formally requested by the Environment Council in December 1994, provides a response to the need at both the EU and international level to have an effective response to the challenge of global warming created by all the greenhouse gases. As a signatory to the Intergovernmental Framework Convention on Climate Change the European Union is committed to taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This commitment is recognised in the Fifth Action Programme on the Environment which calls explicitly for a reduction of methane emissions.

It is the Commission's intention to stimulate an open and extensive debate with all interested parties on these options with the aim of moving on to concrete and effective policy measures as soon as possible.
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