Canada became the first country to promise a 75% reduction in oil and gas industry methane emissions during the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates earlier today.
The new regulation, which broadly aligns with a similar effort in the United States, will eliminate the equivalent of 217 million tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution between 2027 and 2040 and deliver C$12.4 billion in “avoided global damages”, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) said in a release. It’s meant to eliminate routine venting and flaring of natural gas, improve methane leak detection and repair, and address the risk of large methane releases.
“We’re seeing here the beginning of a global movement toward almost eliminating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters in Dubai.
“As the world’s fourth largest oil and gas producer, we have both the responsibility and the know-how to do everything we can,” he added in the departmental release. “At this time of robust profit margins and high [fossil] energy prices, there has never been a better time for the oil and gas sector to invest in slashing methane emissions.”
“Great to see Canada taking strong action to achieve deep reductions in oil and gas methane emissions, just as the U.S. finalizes our own regulations,” said U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. “This is an essential strategy to limit warming to 1.5°C.”
Methane is a climate super-pollutant with 80 to 85 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over the crucial 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified fossil industry methane controls, alongside solar, wind, and energy efficiency deployment, as one of the cheapest ways to deliver faster, deeper emission cuts in this decade.
After signing on to the Global Methane Pledge two years ago during the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Canada released a methane reduction strategy in September, 2022 that affirmed the 75% reduction from 2012 levels by decade’s end, Guilbeault’s department recalled in a backgrounder published earlier today. ECCC followed with a draft regulation two months later, then updated the draft in September, 2023.
The government is also moving to improve methane monitoring and support provincial action on methane through equivalency agreements with Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, the backgrounder stated. And Ottawa earmarked $30 million for a new Methane Centre of Excellence to “improve our understanding and reporting of methane emissions, with a focus on collaborative initiatives to support data and measurement.”
Fossil fuel companies are also moving to get their methane emissions under control, ECCC said in its media release. Earlier in the COP, 50 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies—none of them Canadian—announced voluntary commitments to reduce their methane emissions 80 to 90% by 2030.
But “voluntary action will never be sufficient,” Stephane Hallegatte Sr., a climate change advisor at the World Bank, told CBC. “Regulations are really, really important. You have to ask all oil and gas companies to check for those leaks. There are great new technologies to monitor leaks in real time and to act on them.”
Climate policy and campaign organizations attending COP28 applauded the federal announcement and urged Ottawa to get on with the job of finalizing the new regulations.
“The best way to fully eliminate methane pollution is by phasing out fossil fuel production,” Climate Action Network-Canada said in a release. “As momentum grows at COP28 towards a full, fair, and funded fossil fuel phaseout, Canada must use every tool at its disposal to reduce the enormous climate impact of its oil and gas industry.”
The new rules “represent a crucial and urgently required move towards a climate-resilient future,” said Tom Green, senior climate policy advisor at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Following a summer marked by destructive wildfires and extreme weather events, it is imperative that we hold the oil and gas sector accountable to achieve immediate methane reductions, which are often underestimated by 50% or more.”
“These new methane regulations can be an initial step toward setting and achieving an ambitious cap on overall greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector, on the path to a full, fast, and fair phaseout of fossil fuels,” said Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart. “Given the consistent evidence of industry under-reporting methane emissions, it will be key to have independent monitoring and testing to ensure companies meet their obligations.”
“These regulations will position Canada as a leader on reducing methane pollution, but Canada should be striving for virtual elimination of methane emissions,” said Julia Levin, associate director, national climate at Environmental Defence Canada. “We urge the government to finalize and bring these regulations into force as quickly as possible.”
Cenovus Energy Chief Sustainability Officer Rhona DelFrari told CBC her company has cut its methane emissions 59% over three years, and is aiming for an 80% reduction from 2019 levels—a considerably easier benchmark than the 2012 reference year in the new federal standard—by 2028.
“Canada has a lot to be proud of in the oil and gas sector when it comes to our methane emissions reductions,” she declared. “We’re well, far ahead of many other countries around the world that are oil-producing jurisdictions.”
But the Alberta government, with a strong presence at COP28, was quick to condemn the federal announcement, declaring the new proposed targets “illegal” and unrealistic. “Given the unconstitutional nature of this latest federal intrusion into our provincial jurisdiction, our government will use every tool at our disposal to ensure these absurd federal regulations are never implemented in our province,” Premier Danielle Smith and Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz said in a joint statement.
“The federal government has unilaterally established new methane emissions rules and targets,” they added. “Managing emissions from Alberta’s oil and gas industry is our constitutional right and responsibility.”
Today’s federal government backgrounder notes that the latest draft of the methane regulations factored in “extensive consultation on the development and design of the proposed regulations.” As for constitutional rights, Canada’s division of powers gives provinces authority over natural resources but establishes federal jurisdiction over pollution.