In November 2021, Canada joined the Global Methane Pledge launched by the United States and the European Union at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. The collective goal of this pledge is to reduce human-caused methane emissions by at least 30% of 2020 levels by 2030, globally. In October 2021, the Government of Canada committed to reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by at least 75% by 2030. Canada reports its annual methane emissions data to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in its National Inventory Report. This report compiles statistics on human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including methane.
Canada chairs the Steering Committee of the Global Methane Initiative, a public-private partnership focused on reducing barriers to the recovery and use of methane as a valuable energy source. Canada is also a founder and active partner in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which helps its partner countries establish policies to significantly reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane. Finally, as a member country of the Arctic Council, Canada contributes to reducing methane emissions in the Arctic.
This HillNote discusses the science and statistics behind methane emissions, Canada’s regulatory framework for methane emissions and the impact of permafrost methane emissions on Indigenous communities in the northern territories.
The Science and Statistics Behind Methane Emissions
According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane has an outsized impact on climate; although it makes up a small fraction of our atmosphere compared to CO2, it can trap at least 80 times more heat in 12 years than CO2 can in the first 20 years after its release. However, because methane has a short lifespan and breaks down more quickly than CO2 does, reducing methane emissions is one of the quickest and easiest ways to slow the rate of global warming. The International Energy Agency’s Methane Tracker Data Explorer database suggests that Canada’s share of global methane emissions was 1.2% in 2021.
Figure 1 – Major Sources of Canada’s Methane Emissions in 2020, by Sector
Note: Figure does not include negligible emissions attributed to land use, forestry and industrial processes/product use.
Source: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament using data obtained from United Nations Climate Change, National Inventory Report 1990–2020: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, Part 3, p. 7.
In 2020, Canada emitted 92,000 kilotons of CO2-equivalent methane (13.7% of Canada’s total GHG emissions). Oil and gas fugitive emissions was the biggest methane emitting sub-sector and accounted for 36.4% of Canada’s total methane emissions. According to the UNFCCC, fugitive emissions refer to GHG emissions as by-products, waste or loss in the process of fuel production, storage or transport, including methane emitted during oil and gas drilling and refining, and natural gas leakage from pipelines.
Canadian Regulatory Framework for Methane Emissions
Following the 2016 Canada–U.S. joint statement in which it committed to taking action to reduce methane emissions in its oil and gas sector, Canada made the Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Methane and Certain Volatile Organic Compounds (Upstream Oil and Gas Sector) (the Regulations) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) in 2018.
The first requirements under the regulations, which came into force on 1 January 2020, aim to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40% to 45% of 2012 levels by 2025. The Regulations apply to certain upstream oil and gas facilities that extract, process and/or transport hydrocarbon gas. Under the Regulations, when a facility has a high potential to emit (more than 60,000 m3/year), its operator is required to regularly inspect and repair facility equipment to control intentional and unintentional emissions.
Meanwhile, section 10 of the CEPA authorizes the minister of the environment to enter into an equivalency agreement with a province, territory or Indigenous government to avoid duplicating environmental regulations. In 2020, the Government of Canada announced its equivalency agreements with Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, allowing their provincial methane regulations to replace the federal regulations for up to five years.
In December 2020, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published the proposed Regulations for the Clean Fuel Standard in the Canada Gazette for comments; the final regulations are scheduled for publication in spring 2022. The new regulations intend to encourage methane-reduction projects that go beyond existing federal or provincial requirements.
In January 2022, ECCC launched two public consultations on new measures to reduce methane emissions from Canada’s landfills. One consultation is on the draft protocol for Landfill Methane Recovery and Destruction under the proposed Greenhouse Gas Offset Credit System Regulations (Canada). Landfill operators will be able to generate federal offset credits for capturing methane from their operations, destroying it or repurposing it by converting it into energy. The other consultation is on a discussion paper, Reducing methane emissions from Canada’s municipal solid waste landfills, which looks at the government’s objectives for a federal regulatory approach to reducing landfill methane emissions.
Permafrost Methane Emissions and Indigenous Communities
Common in the Arctic, permafrost is ground that has remained below 0 °C for more than two consecutive years, trapping notable amounts of methane. When permafrost thaws, it releases this methane into the atmosphere. That being said, the exact amount of methane emissions from permafrost remains unknown because monitoring sites in the Arctic are sparsely located. Scientists estimate that abrupt permafrost thawing could release between 60 billion and 100 billion tonnes of carbon by 2300, and methane could contribute 40%–70% of the total permafrost-affected radiative forcing because of its higher warming potential. Radiative forcing measures the influence by a climatic factor in relation to the radiant energy forced upon Earth’s surface.
Figure 2 – Map of Areas Most Physically Sensitive to Permafrost Thawing in Canada
Source: Government of Canada, Implications of Changing Climate for the Arctic Environment.
Methane stored in the thawing permafrost can find its way into the atmosphere, which in turn continues to warm the permafrost in a feedback loop. The degradation of ice-rich permafrost can trigger landslides and coastal erosion. For example, in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, permafrost thaw has endangered the integrity of homes, roads and important cultural sites, as well as the coastal environment.
A 2020 assessment report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal, a non-profit communications centre in Norway, points out that Indigenous people’s knowledge, perspectives and concerns are important and should be incorporated into scientific permafrost research. In June 2019, the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic published a report, Northern Lights: A Wake-up Call for the Future of Canada, with recommendations regarding the role of Indigenous knowledge in Arctic science, including research on and studies of methane emissions from permafrost.
Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat. “Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge.” Knowledge.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. National Inuit Strategy on Research.
Shadmand, Shawdy. “Joint Action to Reduce Methane Emissions: Canada and the United States.” HillNotes. Library of Parliament, 13 February 2018.
Youth of the Inuit community of Tuktoyaktuk. Happening To Us Trailer COP25. 29 November 2019.
By DiYing Wu, Library of Parliament
Categories: Agriculture, environment, fisheries and natural resources, International affairs and defence