The EU is beginning to see an unprecedented groundswell of popular activism for an unlikely topic: methane abatement. From Spain to Italy to Germany and Romania, local and national groups have aligned their efforts to push for European measures that would cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
Why methane? For starters, while it is a short-lived (20 years) greenhouse gas, it has over 80 times the potency of carbon dioxide. Methane is the second largest contributor to climate change—responsible for about half a degree of current warming — and its levels in the atmosphere are rapidly rising. Given all this, deep reductions in methane emissions are critical to keeping global climate goals within reach and avoiding near-term climate impacts.
Prior to 2020, however, methane was barely a blip on the radar of European climate and energy experts. It wasn’t until the European Commission announced its Methane Strategy in October 2020 that methane mitigation began to gain traction as a critical climate solution. During this time Clean Air Task Force (CATF), along with several international and Brussels-based groups, worked closely with the Commission to identify effective legislation from around the world to model the EU’s first bloc-wide attempt at regulating methane pollution.
Despite this progress, methane still needed a breakout moment to stand out among other pressing climate issues. This moment came in 2021 thanks to the cutting-edge science of the Global Methane Assessment, the media blitz generated by the #CutMethaneEU campaign and the global leadership shown by the EU at COP26 with the Global Methane Pledge – all of which firmly put methane onto the global climate agenda.
But all of this movement has not come solely from the top-down. In the past three years, CATF has seen grassroots interest in tackling methane emissions blossom all over Europe. From working with local groups to find undocumented sources of methane, to training more researchers on how to document emissions, all the way to introducing local activists to champions of methane regulation at the national and European level, CATF has been lucky enough to see the beginning of methane momentum on the ground right here in Europe.
Below are some highlights of activity from our partners across Europe:
Spain — Ecologistas en Acción
Ecologistas en Acción (EA) is a Spanish confederation of more than 300 environmental groups founded in 1998. It began working on methane mitigation in April 2022. In July 2022, the national network launched a series of actions and workshops aimed at showing the climate impact of the fossil fuel industry.
Some of their main actions include: a roundtable at the Kamtxaka Semana Negra, a literary festival in the city of Gijon/Xixon to speak about the Regasification Plant of El Musel and a projection on the main square of methane emissions in from oil and gas facilities.
CATF and EA underwent a week-long fieldwork campaign across Northern Spain to document methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. Local activists and members of the network joined the campaign at various stops, and CATF introduced the issue to local activists during a 2-hour comprehensive workshop on methane pollution and our findings of the past week. For many, it was the first time seeing and learning about methane pollution.
EA’s work has generated 16 media hits at the local and national level, including:
- On the hunt for methane gas in Spain: they identify a dozen ‘secret’ leaks in the north of the peninsula, El Español, 6 Oct. 2022
- An investigation discovers methane leaks in gas and oil infrastructures in northern Spain, Diario16, 5 Oct. 2022
- The sabotage of the Nord Stream brings to light a global problem: methane emissions from the energy sector, Tercera, 4 Oct. 2022
Italy – Legambiente
Legambiente is an Italian environmentalist association founded in 1980. It began its work on methane mitigation in April 2022 with their national campaign C’E Puzza di Gas, which opened with 8 stops across Italy at oil and gas facilities to raise awareness on the environmental impact of fossil fuels. Since then, they have arranged 10 seminars, conferences, and training sessions with its regional and local groups.
CATF worked with Legambiente to expose the issue to local activists at four of these stops. In Sicily and Basilicata, CATF and Legambiente went on 10-day fieldwork trip to document emissions. The findings of these trips were then presented to federation members during public actions at the Greenstream Interconnector of Gela, Sicily and the Central Olio de Val d’Agri in Basilicata. In Campania, Legambiente and CATF organized a field visit with members of the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies. And In Emilia-Romagna, CATF presented optical gas imaging findings in the regions and pathways to reduce methane emissions with regards to the regional situation. In March of 2023, Legambiente released a final report on the optical gas imaging campaign documenting methane emissions, finding a total of 150 emissions sources from oil and gas facilities around the country.
Legambiente’s work has generated 92 media hits at the local and national level, including:
- Legambiente, methane leaks in Italy: the Greenstream pipeline and the Melizzano compressor station on watchlist, Il Sole 24, 30 Mar. 2023
- In Italy “there is a smell of gas”, Legambiente reveals fugitive methane emissions in 16 plants: “We need a law on monitoring and maintenance,” Il Fatto Quotidiano, 30 Mar. 2023
- “There is a smell of gas in Campania.” Legambiente: too many fugitive emissions, Corriere, 17 Feb. 2023
Romania – 2Celsius
2Celsius is a climate-centered advocacy and research organization from Central and Eastern Europe, registered in Romania. It joined our cross-European efforts on methane mitigation in April 2021, and, after some initial evidence-gathering fieldwork with CATF in June 2021, 2Celsius began engaging in earnest with Romanian civil society and policymakers to bring methane to the top of the nation’s political agenda.
The NGO’s work combines public awareness and political advocacy strategies to effect change. To this end, it co-organized a protest at the Romanian Ministry of Energy in February 2022, alongside Greenpeace, Bankwatch, and Declic – the largest grassroots campaigning community in Romania. After the protest, at a technical meeting with the Energy Secretary of State, Declic with the support of 2Celsius, delivered a petition signed by more than 45,000 Romanian citizens calling for action.
2Celsius’ engagement with citizens has empowered it in its discussions with government officials and policymakers, and they are now essential members of the negotiating table in the country. This role was exemplified by a high-level conference on February 23, 2022, where 2Celsius was able to bring together major actors on oil and gas including the Presidential administration, policymakers, industry stakeholders, and civil society representatives
CATF plays an important role in advising its Romanian partners, providing capacity building through technical analyses, comments, and site visits. In May 2022, for example, we brought together 2Celsius, Greenpeace, WWF and Bankwatch, to better understand on-site methane emissions.
2Celsius has generated 35 media hits at the local and national level, including:
- How Romania is poisoning all of Europe. The disturbing discovery that was announced, Playtech Stiri, 8 Mar. 2023
- Reducing methane emissions will bring major challenges to Romania; results require collaboration (specialists), Agerpres, 7 Mar. 2023
- Invisible and highly polluting methane leaks detected across Romania, Business News Europe, 29 Aug. 2021
Germany – Deutsche Umwelthilfe
Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) is a German non-governmental environmental and consumer protection organisation that was founded in 1975. It joined our cross-European efforts on methane mitigation in 2021. Compared to work by our European partners, DUH focuses on filing legal cases against companies based on evidence of methane emissions gathered by CATF. So far, two cases have been filed in Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate. These legal actions serve two purposes: they keep methane top-of-mind for regulators and policymakers while ensuring that proper measures are taken to tackle methane emissions. A January 2023 article in Die Zeit, for example, documented DUH’s action in Hamburg and led a member of the city’s parliament to engage on methane pollution and file an inquiry requesting information and more action.
DUH has generated 77 media hits at the local and national level, including:
- Germany Blocks Russian Natural Gas Pipeline, Gizmodo, 23 Feb. 2023
- Living With LNG: Can More Gas Infrastructure and Climate Goals Coexist?, Engineering News Record, 16 Feb. 2023
- New international declaration of intent on methane emissions: German environmental aid calls for regulation of oil and gas imports instead of hot air, Sarrbrucker Zeitung, 11 Nov. 2022
Legislation in Brussels is typically seen as a dry and distant affair, often happening without the awareness of citizens in member states—making the popular spread of the methane movement all the more remarkable. And all this activity is backed up by data. Citizens want policymakers to do more, as survey data gathered from Italy, Germany, France, and Poland shows, including:
- Establishing regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry; and
- Extending EU rules to regulate methane pollution, including a methane fee, to supplier countries.
Thanks to the hard work of organizations like Ecologistas en Acción, Legambiente, 2Celsius, and Deutsche Umwelthilfe, thousands of Europeans are now committed to cutting methane emissions in the Union.
Right now, however, the EU’s Methane Action Plan is under threat. Member states have weakened it in the European Council and, despite a very encouraging proposal from the relevant committees within Parliament, there are still opponents within Parliament looking to weaken the legislation. Efforts to mitigate methane emissions need grassroots support more than ever.