Environmental groups have cautiously welcomed a promise by major oil and gas companies to cut methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas which also contributes to health-harming air pollution.

Fred Krupp, the President of the US environmental group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said the members of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative group of energy producers deserved real credit for setting a “good strong goal”.

But he warned:

“Ultimately, the true test of leadership is transparency and results. It will be critical now for companies to follow through on their commitment, reporting on progress with actual measured emissions, fully and publicly disclosed.”

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) has announced plans to limit methane emissions from both oil and gas operations to 0.25 percent of total marketed product by 2025, with a stated ambition of cutting that figure to 0.2 percent.

According to the IEA’s latest World Energy Outlook, the global oil and gas supply chain emits about 75 million metric tons of methane annually – enough to power Africa two times over.

Environmental groups warn that effective monitoring and accurate reporting of emissions will be essential to ensure that the OGCI commitments are delivered.

Earlier this year the EDF took the extraordinary step of launching its own satellite. ‘MethaneSAT’ will identify and measure human-made methane emissions, as part of a $400 million project backed by major philanthropists.

Methane, which is powerful greenhouse gas, also contributes to the formation of ozone, a harmful air pollutant with serious consequences for human health, especially for people that suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma.

The European Union currently lacks a unified strategy or targeted legislation to cut methane emissions, but the Commission has recently been tasked with drafting a “strategic plan” on methane. Campaigners hope this will include measures to tackle methane emissions at their source.

Margherita Tolotto, EEB Air Quality Policy Officer said:

It’s important to tackle methane emissions from all sources at EU level. Statements of intent from industry must be matched by legally-binding limits that can be enforced through the courts.

Krupp agreed saying:

What we’ve learned through hard experience in the US is that voluntary efforts of leaders are no substitute for government policies that level the playing-field for all.

In North America Donald Trump’s administration has recently rolled back federal protections on methane emissions – a move criticised by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said in a statement that the decision:

…put the preferences of the oil and gas industry ahead of safeguarding Americans’ health or protecting future generations from climate change.

Following the OGCI announcement, the Trump administration is increasingly isolated on this issue.

Elsewhere in North America Canadian rules were recently tightened and Mexico is expected to follow suit in the coming months. Environmental groups are expected to watch closely to see if the EU is ready to take similar steps.