Energy | Gas | Policy Brief
Satellite and other aerial measurements : a step change in methane emission reduction?
05 August 2020
• Measuring, reporting and then accounting for fugitive methane emissions will be an important part of any decarbonisation strategy in the future. Natural gas is a relatively low-carbon fossil fuel and will play a major role in reducing emissions during the decarbonising ‘transition’ phase, notably to substitute coal. Furthermore, it can be expected to play an important role in a very low- and even zero-carbon energy system in the longer term through its role as an energy source for low- and potentially zero-carbon hydrogen. • Discussions during two webinars organised by the Florence School of Regulation showed a rapidly evolving and impressive development of the ability and potential for satellites to monitor and detect methane emissions. While they are not a panacea, the use of satellite instruments could substantially strengthen global monitoring of methane emissions close to real time. • Different regulatory models exist today to ensure that companies monitor and are then incentivised to eliminate emissions. Further work is needed to benchmark and compare these models, not least to determine which incentivises technological development. • In any event, methane emissions are a global issue and require a global solution. A framework is already in place: the UN Guidelines on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space could, for example, facilitate the specification of procedures related to the discovery of a large methane leak. Continued work and progress through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership can be important in this context. • The EU will issue its Methane Strategy in the coming months. This will be an excellent opportunity to set out a process to accelerate international cooperation over using satellite measurements in methane emission detection and measurement. Satellite technology can be one of two ‘pillars’ of any emission detection and reduction policy, the second being local monitoring actions implemented at the national or regional level. Once this has been achieved, effective measures can be adopted through diplomatic action, standards or pricing. • The EU has considerable economic and political power and influence, and an established energy dialogue with all its major energy suppliers. Combining action at home and collaboration abroad, and given the state of technological development and its continual improvement, the pieces are gradually falling into place that should permit a (cost-) effective approach to accurately measuring and significantly reducing emissions that will in turn permit accurate accounting of them in GHG emission policies and actions.
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