Major energy exporting and importing countries made an ostensibly worthy pledge at the COP 27 climate summit to slash emissions from fossil fuels—but it turns out to be a toothless “paper tiger,” say climate watchdogs, with no legally binding effects and nothing new added to past commitments.
The Joint Declaration from Energy Importers and Exporters on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fossil Fuels announced late last week “looks laudable on paper” but is a “toothless tool in practice,” says Climate Action Network-Europe.
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
Signed by the United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, the pledge “aims to build a coalition of major global fossil fuels importers and exporters so as to support domestic actions to cut methane and carbon dioxide emissions along the fossil energy value chain through robust measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification initiatives,” CAN Europe says. “However, the text has no legally binding effects, and doesn’t bring anything new.”
The declaration’s signatories call for global action to reduce methane emissions in the fossil energy sector “to the fullest extent practicable” with the aim to reduce warming by 0.1°C by mid-century. That aligns with International Energy Agency findings on the near-term warming reduction from fully deploying “technically feasible mitigation in this sector.”
“To the fullest extent practicable” is a caveat deployed three times in the document, with signatories aspiring to create “an international market for fossil energy that minimizes flaring, methane, and carbon dioxide emissions across the value chain,” and to adopt “policies and measures to capture, utilize, or destroy methane in the coal sector.”
But Germany’s Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH or Environmental Action Germany) calls the declaration a “paper tiger,” pointing out that it adds nothing of substance to what is already proposed in the EU’s Methane Regulation Proposal, now under review before the European Parliament and Council.
The declaration is silent on the need to regulate methane emissions from fossil oil and gas imports, which begin in the supplier country. That matters because “75 to 90% of the methane emissions caused by the EU’s fossil energy consumption originate outside the EU,” says DUH, citing estimates from the European Commission.Yet the EU and its fellow importers have joined a declaration that focuses on their own smaller share of the problem, not the downstream emissions that are triggered by their oil and gas consumption.
“We call on fossil energy importers to take steps to reduce the methane emissions associated with their energy consumption, which can spur emissions reductions across the value chain,” the declaration states. Only secondarily does it “also call on fossil energy producers to implement projects and supporting policies and measures to achieve emissions reductions across fossil energy operations.”
Such policy statements cannot remain unchallenged, says DUH. “The EU must use its influence as one of the largest fossil importers to initiate changes in the supplying countries that have not yet regulated their methane emissions,” said DUH Federal Managing Director Sascha Müller-Kraenner. “This requires an EU methane regulation with clear specifications for the production and transport conditions in the supplier countries.”
A new legal report commissioned by CAN Europe concludes that it is “legally possible to extend the scope of the Methane Regulation to operators outside the EU that export fossil fuels entering the EU market.” This would mean “applying the EU domestic provisions on Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV), Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR), and Limits on Routine Venting and Flaring (LRVF) to all energy imports, and requiring importers to only source oil and gas from countries and companies meeting those standards.”
More broadly, the EU needs to “use its buying power to move exporters to adopt standards on methane emissions, which are still unregulated in large parts of the world,” even though those emissions have 83 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year span.
The declaration does also refers to carbon dioxide, affirming “the need to accelerate global transitions to clean energy, recognizing that reliance on unabated fossil fuels leaves us vulnerable to market volatility and geopolitical challenges.”
Here, the inclusion of the word “unabated” is noteworthy—that is, fossil fuels burned in the absence of carbon and capture storage (CCS) technology. There is no explicit mention of CCS in the document, but it is present in serial references to “carbon dioxide mitigation in the fossil energy sector.”
That makes the declaration a kind of “dog whistle” for CCS, an expensive technology that still very far being able to deliver on budget or at scale.