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'A no-brainer solution': Canada bolsters fight against powerful pollutant methane to help country reach climate goals

The fossil fuel sector accounts for 35 per cent of human-caused methane emissions, the UN said. The fossil fuel sector accounts for 35 per cent of human-caused methane emissions, the UN said.
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Canada is ramping up its climate battle by strengthening its regulations for methane, a greenhouse gas that environmental experts say has a more potent warming effect than carbon dioxide, as the country aims to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by at least 75 per cent by 2030.

As officials head to the United Nations COP28 climate change summit in Dubai that starts Thursday, Canada will soon announce new regulations and funding to tackle the methane problem, an integral part of Canada’s climate strategy, Kaitlin Power, press secretary at the Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, confirmed to CTVNews.ca.

Power didn’t immediately provide CTVNews.ca with more information on the plan and when regulations will take effect. She said an announcement with more details will be coming soon.

The federal government currently has methane regulations for the oil and gas sector that aim to reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025.

Under the new methane plan, the federal government will strengthen the regulations, including requiring upgraded oil and gas infrastructure to prevent leaks. The plan will also include banning or limiting the practice of flaring, the controlled burning of gas or releasing it instead of capturing it, Power confirmed.

Flaring can harm human health and the environment including exacerbating global warming, according to the journal Science and University of Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center.

In September, Environment and Climate Change Canada announced a new strategy to reduce at least 75 per cent in oil and gas methane emissions by 2030. Canada launched its 2030 emissions reduction plan in March 2022, including methane cuts as a key part of its more ambitious goal to slash emissions 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Anna Kanduth, director of the Canadian Climate Institute’s 440 Megatonnes data site, which tracks climate policy progress, said complying with the government’s new methane regulations could do a third of the work required to reduce emissions in the oil and gas sector to 110 megatonnes by 2030.

“The technology is available today. Companies can deploy these technologies at a low or even at no cost because that captured methane can actually be resold as natural gas,” she said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “So it’s often referred to as a no-brainer solution. So really something that can be done to help Canada reach its larger greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”

HIGH CONCENTRATIONS OF METHANE LINKED TO PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEMS

Methane, the key component of natural gas used to heat and power homes and buildings, in high concentrations has been linked to health issues, such as difficulty breathing, headaches, vision problems, nausea, memory loss, vomiting and even suffocation. Air pollutants like methane can increase the risk of cancer and harm the immune, neurological, reproductive and respiratory systems, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

The United Nations Environment Programme says methane is linked to one million premature deaths worldwide each year. A core contributor to creating ground-level ozone, methane is a dangerous air pollutant and greenhouse gas that’s 80 times more powerful at warming than carbon dioxide, the UN agency said.

Though a greenhouse gas with a limited lifespan of 12 years, methane pollutes the air, water, and soil and worsens climate change's impacts that contribute to extreme weather such as droughts and heatwaves, according to climate groups the Environmental Defense Fund and the Global Climate and Health Alliance.

In light of the serious health effects of methane, some policy observers are welcoming Canada’s plan to soon introduce stronger methane regulations as a cheaper and easier climate solution.

Kanduth says methane emissions are really harmful to our health. “So reducing methane emissions is also really key for improving air quality in Canada, which I know Canadians are thinking a lot about especially in light of the summer we had where a lot of communities were affected by wildfire smoke. And I think a lot more Canadians are thinking about air quality and how it’s connected to climate change,” said Kanduth.

“I think the methane regulations are an important part of the federal government’s emissions reduction plan,” she added. “We don’t know what draft regulations look like just yet. But we do know that reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is one of the relatively easier and cheaper things that the sector can do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.”

Tom Green, senior climate policy adviser with the David Suzuki Foundation, agrees the move is a big step forward for Canada. He said it would cost households nothing since it would focus on the oil and gas sector taking action.

“Reducing methane is cost-effective and the gas that was being released or leaked by industry can instead (be) put in the pipe network and used to heat homes, schools and businesses,” said Green in an email to CTVNews.ca.

Targeting agriculture and waste, the other major sources of methane, is harder, Green said. For example, he said it is a challenge to change fertilizer use, divert organics from landfills for composting and collect methane from landfills.

Noting that methane comprises about 14 per cent of Canada’s total emissions, Green said efforts to address the problem are significant because methane is a greenhouse gas that has a more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide.

“The good news is because it doesn’t last long in the atmosphere, if we reduce methane emissions, we get near immediate climate benefit and we could shave off several tenths of a degree of future warming that would otherwise occur,” he said. “This would make a huge difference. … We need to succeed on methane to meet climate goals.”

Not only will reducing methane help reduce the climate effects of extreme weather, Green said it will also lower the health costs linked with fossil fuel emissions. Many of the fixes required are at zero or very low cost to industry, or less than $11 per tonne, he pointed out.

“There is no excuse not to act,” he said.

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