Skip to main content

EU oil and gas imports linked to avoidable health risks for 10m people

October 19, 2023 Work Area: Methane

Brussels – In a new study, Clean Air Task Force (CATF) shows that oil and gas imports to the European Union expose nearly 10 million people to  an avoidable practice known as flaring, which is known to release high levels of harmful chemicals. Through a strong methane import standard, the EU can dent global flaring emissions and decrease the health risk of nearby populations. 

“It’s perhaps common knowledge that living near unregulated oil and gas facilities is likely to have deleterious impacts on peoples’ health,” said Ioannis Binietoglou, Remote Sensing Policy Manager, Methane Pollution Prevention at CATF. “But what this research shines a light on is the fact that regulating European imports of fossil fuels could impact the lives of millions all around the world. The decisions made in Brussels have far reaching consequences – policymakers need to own that.” 

The study, Fueling Change: EU’s Opportunity to Curb Flaring Pollution and Protect Millions, focused on 20 countries with significant oil and gas exports to the European Union and where an EU Import Standard is likely to lead to reductions in flaring. The study finds: 

  • Nearly 10 million people live within 5 kilometers (km) of active flares; 
  • Iraq and Nigeria have the most people affected, with 3.0 million and 2.5 million respectively; 
  • Another 2.9 million people live within 5km of flares in the United States, Mexico, Azerbaijan, and Egypt combined; 
  • More than half a million people live extremely close to flares, less than 1 km away; 
  • 10% of flaring sites are located very near urban or suburban areas. 

“The idea of strong methane import standard is starting to pick up steam as EU leaders start looking towards showcasing their climate impacts at COP28,” said Brandon Locke, Policy Manager, Methane Pollution Prevention at CATF. “This research shows that backing such a standard would have a two for one impact, both on global emissions targets and on the health of millions of people.”  

Flaring releases a multitude of harmful air pollutants, including benzene, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methane, carbon dioxide among others. Exposure to these harmful pollutants has been linked with negative health impacts by numerous recent studies – please see the table below for an overview: 

Table 1: Health impacts of pollutants released from flaring

Air PollutantHealth ImpactReference
BenzeneCancer, anemia, brain damage and birth defects, and respiratory tract irritationMirrezaei, et al. 2020
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)Asthma, and respiratory tract irritationWillis, et al. 2020
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)Asthma, and respiratory tract irritationMirrezaei, et al. 2020
Particulate Matter (PM) and Black Carbon (BC)Cancer, birth defects, asthma, bronchitis, cardiovascular, and respiratory illnessChen, et al. 2022, Cushing, el al. 2020, Anejionu, et al. 2015
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Cancer, and respiratory tract irritation
Mirrezaei, et al. 2020

“Globally speaking, eliminating avoidable flaring from oil and gas production worldwide is probably the lowest hanging fruit of emissions reductions,” said James Turitto, Global Campaigns Director, Methane Pollution Prevention at CATF. “World leaders should make reducing flaring, venting and fugitive emissions a priority in Dubai as these are all measures that can substantially slow warming in the short term.” 

Recent CATF analysis shows that the inclusion of a methane import standard within the regulation could lead to more than a 30% reduction in global methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, which currently represents 7% of all man-made methane emissions worldwide. Achieving these reductions by 2030 would constitute 20% of the necessary progress towards fulfilling the Global Methane Pledge’s ambitious goal.  

CATF and Carbon Limits convened a range of legal and technical experts to outline possible implementation scenarios for an EU methane import standard, the summary of our findings can be found here. As the large majority of emissions from EU gas consumption take place outside of the EU borders, the extension of mitigation measures could have a major impact in terms of cleaning up the value-chain and cutting methane globally. The EU’s gas imports market touches on over 51% of global production. 

Methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and is responsible for 0.5°C of the warming the earth has experienced to date. Because of its potency — and its short lifespan compared to carbon dioxide — cutting methane pollution is the fastest way to slow the escalating rate of global warming. Scientists agree that we will not be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees or any target, without drastically cutting our anthropogenic methane emissions.   

Press Contact  

Rowan Emslie, Communications Director, EU, [email protected], +32 476-97-36-42  

About Clean Air Task Force  

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world.

Related Posts

Stay in the know

Sign up today to receive the latest content, news, and developments from CATF experts.

"*" indicates required fields