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Methane Emissions

Volume 827: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to their commitment to the Global Methane Pledge launched at COP26, what plans they have to set a target for reducing methane emissions by 30 per cent on 2020 levels by 2030.

My Lords, the UK has adopted early and ambitious measures to tackle methane emissions. Between 1990 and 2020, UK methane emissions dropped by 62%, more than any other OECD country. The Government recognise the urgency to do more and are pursuing efforts to secure further emissions reductions in line with the net-zero strategy and our carbon budgets. The Government’s approach is consistent with the global methane pledge as a global reduction target.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer, but I am not absolutely sure whether he is saying that the UK itself is committed to a 30% reduction, or whether it is just taking part in a collective reduction. Can he clarify that? I also want to ask him about the vexed problem of landfill sites, where we are still capturing only 70% of the biogas coming from them—and the proportion has declined since 2016. How will the Government increase methane capture rates to nearer 90%, as happens in some sites, by both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and harvesting more useable gas for the economy? If he does not know the answer to these questions, can he write to me?

I do know the answers to the noble Baroness’s questions, she will be shocked to know. In answer to her first question, I say that the UK is signed up to, and helping to implement, a global target. On the waste sector, she is absolutely right that we need to do more. Landfill emissions over the last 25 years have been tackled in two ways: by reducing the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill, with the landfill tax being a key driver, and by increasing the efficiency of methane collection from existing landfills. The other thing we need to do more is to increase waste food collections, so that we can generate more clean gas through anaerobic digesters, which is part of my department’s policies.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the word “urgency”, yet if we look at the North Sea, we are emitting three times the amount of methane compared with the equivalent extraction by Norway. On our side, the Government, through the North Sea Transition Authority, are just saying that there should be an end to the regular venting and flaring of methane by 2030. Should we not be performing as well as Norway now, if that urgency is there?

The noble Lord is right that we need to do better venting and flaring; it is a priority. We set out our commitment to the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative, as the noble Lord said. We are working with regulators and industry to eliminate this practice as soon as we possibly can.

My Lords, I will follow on from the very good question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. One of the worst methane leaks happened with the rupture of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Our report on UNCLOS detected a possible lack of protection of seabed pipelines. Can the Minister assure your Lordships that the MoD is making extra sure that these are better protected in future?

The explosion in the Nord Stream pipeline was truly shocking, with large quantities of gas released. I do not think that any investigations have yet shown who is responsible for that; I am sure we all have our strong suspicions. It was an appalling act of sabotage. I am sure that the authorities in the MoD and the security services are looking very closely at all our own interconnecting pipelines.

My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I point out that we are three times as bad as Norway in the published figures. However, I am sure the Minister is aware of the study out in the past month from Princeton University and Colorado State University, which says that the real figures are five times as bad as the published figures and that methane release data is based on outdated, unpublished, publicly unavailable or generic figures. Will the Government ensure that the best peer-reviewed research and methodology is used to calculate methane emissions from oil and gas?

Of course we will want to make sure that the information and published figures are as accurate as possible, but I think the noble Baroness does us a little bit of a disservice. We have reduced our methane emissions in the UK, as I said, by 62%. That is much better than the US and the EU 27. Clearly, we need to do more, but we have a good record in this area.

My Lords, with respect to greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, will His Majesty’s Government take into account, first, that the UK cattle herd has reduced by over 30% since 1975? Given the short half- life of methane in the atmosphere, that represents a similar permanent reduction in our national herd’s contribution to atmospheric methane. Secondly, we currently produce beef per unit of weight at less the half the global average greenhouse gas emissions.

I know that the farming sector has a good record, but of course ruminant livestock are one of the largest causes of farm emissions and one of the largest emitters in this country. We need to do more and we need to do better. I am straying into the territory of my noble friend Lord Benyon, but this is an area that we do need to improve our performance in.

The Minister rightly highlights the successes that the UK has shown in reducing methane emissions by 62% between 1990 and 2020. We welcome the UK signing up to the global methane pledge after COP 26. If the Government now say that UK emission reduction will have reached only 64% by 2030, where is the commitment to the pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% from the 2020 levels? Where is the urgency? The memo calls us a global leader. Are we effectively saying that we have done our bit rather than continuing to lead the way?

No, we are not saying that we have done our bit; we are saying that we have an extremely good record that is, as I said, much better than many of our industrialised partners, principally because we have virtually eliminated coal from our energy mix. Because we have done much better, performative-wise, than other countries it makes it more difficult for us to reduce further going forward, but we are committed to doing that. We are committed to working with our partners. Many of these sectors, as has been indicated by the questions, are quite difficult to tackle but we will certainly take a lead in this.

The International Energy Agency estimates that 72% of methane released from the UK’s oil and gas sector could be abated cost-effectively with existing technologies and practices. Will the Government accept the recommendations of Chris Skidmore’s net-zero review and ban routine flaring and venting by 2025—as the Norwegians did back in 1971?

Of course, we have received Chris Skidmore’s excellent report only recently, and we are studying its conclusions and recommendations in detail and will respond shortly. As I said, we will do our best to reduce routine flaring and we have a target—but if we can exceed that target, we certainly will.

My Lords, the announcement that every council will implement domestic food waste collections by 2025 is, of course, welcome, but it will not end the landfilling of other organic waste, such as garden waste and commercial food waste. If the UK were to bring forward its proposed end of landfilling organic waste from 2028 to 2025, it would cut methane emissions by an extra 13%, as a result of the time lag between waste arriving in landfill and the production of methane. Will the Minister talk to his noble friend at Defra to encourage it to look again at this point?

I am sure that my noble friend has heard the noble Baroness’s point, and she makes a very salient contribution. It is vital that we implement food waste collection as fast as possible, and I am particularly keen to do that because we have a whole series of anaerobic digestors being rolled out across the country, generating clean green gas that can feed directly into the gas mains. We have a subsidy policy in place for that; it is an excellent scheme, and we want to expand it.

My Lords, as well as failing in most areas of public policy, the Government are failing in the insulation of homes. Would not it be good for them to actually do something about this, as it would reduce pollution and help people with their energy bills?

It would indeed be good for the Government to do something about it—and, indeed, we are. We have an excellent insulation programme; we are spending something like £6.6 billion over this Parliament on insulation schemes. If the noble Lord would have a little patience, we will announce new schemes shortly. The Chancellor has already committed another £6 billion from 2025 for those schemes. Of course, there is always more that we can do—we have one of the biggest problems in Europe in terms of having the oldest housing stock, as many of our homes were built before the First World War. There is a lot to do, and we are doing a lot—and in essence the noble Lord is right, in that we can of course always do more on insulation, but let us not pretend that we are not doing anything at all.