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The Port of Rotterdam’s sustainability strategy increases methane emissions – a forgotten greenhouse gas with higher impact than CO₂

Environmental journalist Zuza Nazaruk spent the past few months chasing methane in the Port of Rotterdam, with financial support of Fonds Pascal Decroos. We supported Zuza with reporting, translation from English to Dutch, proofreading for technical correctness, and data visualistions. The article was published by Vers Beton and can be read here (in Dutch).

Methane emissions are difficult to measure, but methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO₂. Because of its high warming potential and its short lifetime in the atmosphere, reducing methane emissions helps to cool down the Earth in the short term. Reducing methane emissions can be done by fixing gas leaks so is a very economical climate solution. Animal agriculture is a large contributor to methane emissions, so shifting to plant-based diets will also help.

Zuza Nazaruk’s research shows that technologies presented as ‘climate (transition) solutions’ by the Port of Rotterdam, such as LNG and hydrogen, will actually increase methane emissions. These emissions are not monitored by the environmental authorities DCMR Milieudienst Rijnmond. Companies whose yearly methane emissions are higher than 100 tons are obliged to report them to the government. However, the European Environment Agency‘s pollutant registry shows much lower methane values than the independent greenhouse gas tracker Climate TRACE (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Methane emissions as reported by companies to the European Environment Agency (EEA) versus methane emissions calculated by the independent research collaboration Climate TRACE. Emissions below 100 tonnes/year are not reported to the EEA.

The port of Rotterdam, a major energy hub for northwest Europe, has many facilities that emit methane. If methane emissions from the Port’s four major refineries are included, the reported emissions of the Port as a whole increase by 8.5% over 2021. For the refineries, emissions increase by more than a fifth when accounting for methane (Figure 2). Moreover, this does not yet include emissions from LNG marine vessels and current or planned hydrogen plants, as values are only available for the refineries.

Figure 2: CO₂ and methane emissions from 4 refineries in the port of Rotterdam (Shell, BP, Vitol, Gunvor). In green the reported CO₂ emissions by the European Environment Agency. If methane emissions (orange) are included, emissions rise by almost two megatons a year. In the chart, you can select 20 or 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP) , click here to learn more about GWP.

The oil and gas industry worldwide could reduce its methane emissions by 75% using only existing technologies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates, at an investment of less than 3% of its net revenues by 2022.

The lack of clear reporting casts doubt on the Port’s much-promoted “green” narrative. Reliable reporting is a prerequisite for reducing emissions or, at least, preventing them from increasing. Because the latter is exactly what is happening now in the port of Rotterdam, with the switch to LNG as a fuel for ships.

Read the full article here (in Dutch only).