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Reducing methane emissions for climate change

An international push is needed to decrease methane emissions which can provide the most impactful way to limit near-term climate change says the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a newly released report.

Methane is responsible for around 30% of the global rise in temperatures to date. The IEA’s Curtailing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations: Pathways to a 75% cut by 2030 says rapid steps to tackle methane emissions from oil, gas and coal operations would have an immediate impact because of the potent effect of methane on global warming and the large scope for cost-effective actions.

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IEA warns methane emissions resurgence imminent

Fossil fuel operations around the world emitted close to 120 million tonnes of methane in 2020. This is nearly one third of all methane emissions from human activity. Much of these emissions are leakages along the production and supply chain which operators fail to avert or capture. As the report points out, there are cost-effective ways to limit these emissions, especially in the oil and gas sector.

The IEA estimates that more than 70% of current emissions from oil and gas operations are technically feasible to prevent. Around 45% could typically be avoided at no net cost because the value of the captured gas is higher than the cost of the abatement measure. The share could be much higher, given the record highs in natural gas prices.

Eventual decline in fossil fuel use is not enough to forestall worst effects of climate change

The report provides crucial insight and guidance for governments, regulators and the energy industry in the build up to COP26 and beyond. Building on the estimates of emissions and options for addressing them in the IEA Methane Tracker and Regulatory Roadmap and Toolkit, the report identifies and quantifies a range of measures, including policy and regulatory actions, voluntary industry initiatives and improvements in emissions measurement and reporting.

Dr Fatih Birol, IEA executive director: “At a time when we are constantly being reminded of the damaging effects of climate change, it is inexcusable that massive amounts of methane continue to be allowed to just seep into the air from fossil fuel operations.

“These emissions are avoidable, the solutions are proven and even profitable in many cases. And the benefits in terms of avoided near-term warming are huge,” said Birol.

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Very little time left to limit the effect of climate change

Quick action is needed because eventual declines in demand for fossil fuels alone will not achieve rapid enough reductions of methane emissions to forestall the worst effects of climate change.

In the IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero Emissions by 2050, methane emissions from fossil fuel operations fall by around 75% between 2020 and 2030. About one-third of this decline is a result of an overall reduction in fossil fuel consumption. But, the larger share comes from measures and technologies aimed at reducing emissions in existing fields, pipelines and mines.

The new Global Methane Pledge calls for at least a 30% reduction in global methane emissions from human activity by 2030. If the world achieves the 75% cut in methane from fossil fuel operations as described in this new IEA report, this would lower total human-caused methane emissions by around 25%.

A large coalition of actors must commit to methane emissions decrease

Multiple jurisdictions around the world have already employed well-established policy tools, including leak detection and repair requirements, technology standards and a ban on non-emergency flaring and venting. Some countries have included methane alongside other greenhouse gases in their national net zero pledges, while others have made more targeted announcements.

These governments could also leverage their buying power to incentivise other countries to step up their measures against emissions, given that more than 40% of the oil and gas produced in countries without strong methane commitments is exported for consumption in countries that do have such commitments.

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Heading to COP26

Company initiatives play an important role in tackling emissions, especially when leading companies act to spread best practices across the industry. Growing transparency on the sources and magnitude of methane emissions is also set to play an important role, supported by promising developments in monitoring technologies, notably from satellites, and the establishment of a common framework for measuring and reporting emissions. To achieve rapid reductions in methane emissions, governments, companies and other stakeholders must all work to build a larger coalition of actors committed to this effort.

The Curtailing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations: Pathways to a 75% cut by 2030 report is available online.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a content producer for Clarion Events Africa.