Biomethane target an “environmental disaster in the making”

20th Sep 23 by Frank Mechielsen

Fossil industry is lobbying in the EU for new subsidies for so-called 'green gas'

As EU prepares to overhaul its gas market, new analysis highlights industry capture of law-making process, with mooted biomethane target an “environmental disaster in the making”

As EU Member States prepare to decide on the recast of the bloc’s Gas Package, new analysis by the campaigning group Feedback EU shows that proposals to ramp up biomethane production to 35 billion cubic meters (bcm) by 2030 from its current level of 3.5 bcm are both unrealistic and risk locking in dangerously unsustainable agricultural, land use and energy practices.

Biomethane, which can be produced from a wide variety of feedstocks ranging from manure to food waste, is often presented as a “green” alternative to fossil gas by its industry proponents. However, as Feedback EU’s analysis shows, the use of most of these feedstocks at the volumes proposed comes with significant downsides and unintended consequences such as encouraging more livestock production and food-feed-fuel competition.

Feedback’s findings show that the production target of 35 bcm biomethane by 2030 set out in the current legislative proposal comes from a report authored by the biogas industry. Its ‘Gas for Climate’ report significantly inflates a target recommended by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and independent experts, which concluded that only around 24 bcm of biomethane could be produced sustainably by 2030.

Frank Mechielsen, Director of Feedback EU said: “This appears to be a textbook case of corporate capture. It’s deeply shocking to see that the European Commission has ignored the assessment conducted by its own own experts and is flouting the evidence by setting an unrealistically high biomethane target. At best, this target will be unachievable, at worst it will lock in dangerously unsustainable agricultural, land use and energy practices and could be an environmental disaster in the making. Member States must reject it or face unintended consequences which will impact on the EU’s ability to meet its climate commitments and food security over the coming decades.”

Karen Luyckx, the technical advisor who conducted the research, said: “Our analysis shows that the 35 bcm biomethane target in the current legislative proposal has been poorly thought through and fails to take into account the best expert advice. It will do nothing to improve energy security in the EU and will inevitably drive unsustainable practices in the farming and energy sectors. We acknowledge that there is a niche role for anaerobic digestion of unavoidable organic waste streams, but to be truly sustainable the volume of biomethane produced will need to be much smaller than envisaged by the gas industry.”

Feedback’s analysis also draws attention to the problem of methane leakage: a recent meta-analysis of 51 previous studies has found that methane emissions from the biogas supply chain are twice as big as estimated by the International Energy Agency (IEA). This means that currently the amount of methane released relative to total biogas production is higher than for fossil gas. It is therefore crucial that the Gas Regulation legislates for continuous emissions measurement and enforcement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission prevention along the whole supply chain.

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