Emissions of climate-busting methane from fossil fuel operations are 70% higher than national governments are reporting, according to the 2022 edition of the Global Methane Tracker released this morning by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The gap between the reporting and the reality is “massive” and “alarming”, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a release.
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The tracker “shows emissions from oil, gas, and coal are on the rise again, underscoring need for greater transparency, stronger policies, and immediate action,” the IEA writes. “Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and quick and sustained emission reductions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality.”
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it’s 80 to 85 times more potent a warming agent over a 20-year span—the period in which humanity will be scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.
Before and immediately after the groundbreaking science assessment released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last August, scientists identified methane reductions as the best opportunity to curb greenhouse gas emissions through 2040, and predicted climate catastrophe without immediate action. At last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, more than 100 countries congratulated themselves for signing a global methane pledge, though experts quickly warned that their 30% reduction target by 2030 fell short of what’s needed.
Now, the Paris-based IEA says methane emissions from energy production increased nearly 5% in 2021, with almost equal proportions coming from coal, oil, and natural gas operations. The 135 million tonnes from the entire sector, including nine megatonnes from incomplete wood burning and four Mt from inefficient fuel-burning equipment, accounted for 38% of methane emissions resulting from human activities, making energy a slightly less methane-intensive sector than agriculture.
The biggest sources of energy-related methane emissions were China, at 28 Mt, followed by Russia at 18 Mt and the United States at 17 Mt. Satellite measurements in 2021 picked up major methane releases from oilfields in Texas, Turkmenistan, and other parts of Central Asia.
Canada accounted for 4.4 million tonnes, or 1.2% of global methane output, with 55% of the total coming from the energy sector. The United Kingdom produced just under 2.7 Mt, 0.8% of the global total, with just 11% due to energy production and waste emerging as the country’s biggest methane source.
The cruel irony, with natural gas prices riding high, is that “nearly all of the methane emissions from oil and gas operations worldwide could be avoided at no net cost,” Birol said.
“The wasteful leakage of methane, the main component of natural gas, is all the more striking given today’s backdrop of very tight and volatile gas markets,” the IEA explains in its overview of the report. “Methane leaks in 2021 from fossil fuel operations, if captured and marketed, would have made an additional 180 billion cubic metres of gas available to the market, an amount similar to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector. This would have been comfortably enough to ease today’s price pressures.”
The IEA report points to a 100-fold difference between the countries with the highest and lowest methane emissions intensity, concluding that global emissions would fall 90% if all methane-producing countries matched Norway’s world-leading practices.