The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2023: Methane Emissions Reduction No Longer Complicated or Expensive


The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2023: Methane Emissions Reduction No Longer Complicated or Expensive

The IEA's latest report, which includes valuable recommendations and an actionable roadmap for curbing methane emissions. It proves that the oil and gas industry and governments now have all the means to start working on methane emissions reduction.

26 March 2023 – by Viktor Tachev   Comments (0)

The 2023 IEA Methane Tracker is a sobering reminder that, CO2 aside, the world must also address methane emissions rapidly. The agency warns that immediate methane reductions will be critical since they can provide a net cooling effect relatively quickly. Most countries have so far dragged their feet, citing reasons like the cost or the complexity of the process. However, the IEA’s new analysis and regulatory toolkit clarify that the process is no longer expensive or complicated, giving governments everything needed to start shaping their methane emissions reduction policies.

What Is the Global Methane Pledge?

Launched at COP26 in 2021, the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) is an initiative involving around 150 countries. It targets reducing methane emissions from human activity by 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels. If successful, it can potentially eliminate over 0.2˚C of warming by 2050.

The GMP aims to address the ever-increasing contribution of methane emissions to the climate crisis. Methane has been responsible for around 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times. 

Methane can last around a decade on average in the atmosphere, compared to centuries for CO2. Yet, it is a very powerful polluter. Over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2. 

Furthermore, the IEA warns that methane emissions also cause harm to crops, the health of communities, the safety of mining operations and energy security.

Human activity accounts for 50 to 65% of global anthropogenic methane emissions. The main reason for these numbers is the fossil fuel sector – from coal mines to operational processes within the oil and gas industry, as well as leaky gas infrastructure.

Sources of Methane Emissions, Source: IEA
Sources of Methane Emissions, Source: IEA

Furthermore, methane emissions are increasing faster than ever. Today, they are 2.5 times higher compared to pre-industrial times.

The Pitfalls of the Global Methane Pledge

In theory, the GMP can give a much-needed push in helping to tame the climate crisis. However, the reality is that the initiative has one major flaw: it is voluntary.

Furthermore, the participants aren’t bound by their pledges. This means GMP members would have no repercussions if they failed to honour their commitments. 

The Mission to Slash Methane Emissions: Good and Bad Examples

Currently, the countries participating in the GMP account for over 50% of the total methane emissions from human activity and 45% of the methane from fossil fuel operations.

The initiative’s launch has highlighted the countries’ varying attitudes towards reducing methane emissions.

For example, some countries have joined the GMP but found it insufficient. As a result, they have drafted more ambitious strategies, including introducing national methane action plans and publishing landmark policies.

On a global scale, the number of national policies is increasing exponentially, especially after the launch of the GMP.

New Policies and Measures Related to Methane Abatement, 2010-2022, Source: IEA
New Policies and Measures Related to Methane Abatement, 2010-2022, Source: IEA

Meanwhile, some countries don’t plan to address methane emissions. The main reasons include their fossil fuel interests, including heavy coal mine operations and massive gas expansion plans.

The Success Stories

The GMP includes some major methane emitters like the US (2nd), Brazil (5th), Indonesia (6th) and Nigeria (9th).

Methane Emissions from Human Activity for Top Emitters as Reported to the UNFCCC, Source: IEA
Methane Emissions from Human Activity For Top Emitters as Reported to the UNFCCC and Estimates by the IEA, Source: IEA

The EU and the US, the main driving forces behind the launch of the GMP, also plan to launch the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway. Their joint goal is to accelerate methane emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector.

Furthermore, countries like Nigeria, Colombia and the US have recently introduced ambitious national policies and actions to curb methane emissions. 

Through its Inflation Reduction Act, the US plans to charge the oil and gas industry based on its methane emissions. It will also provide the sector with financial and technical assistance for methane abatement.

Nigeria’s guidelines for emissions management in the upstream oil and gas sector aim to help eliminate routine gas flaring by 2030 and achieve a 60% reduction in fugitive methane emissions by 2031. 

Colombia became the first South American country to regulate oil and gas sector methane emissions, including leak detection and repair requirements. 

Canada targets a 30% methane emissions reduction by 2030. However, it also has interim targets in 2025 and 2030 for emissions from oil and gas extraction, coal mining and fossil fuel consumption. 

Canada and the EU plan to issue new regulations this year.

The Laggards

China (1st), India (3rd) and Russia (4th) are among the biggest methane emitters globally, according to the IEA. These fossil fuel-heavy economies haven’t signed up for the GMP.

China, for example, has very few methane reduction policies. Its most significant methane emissions are from coal mining and oil and gas facilities. At the same time, they aren’t subject to any binding standards.

While China is later than the rest in recognising the problem, it has started taking steps in the right direction. After the 2021 US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration, it is working on a national action plan to address methane emissions. The plan will go live in 2023.

The IEA Methane Tracker 2023

The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker 2023 reveals that methane emissions remained high in 2022. The global economic uncertainty, high energy prices and fossil fuel supply instabilities weren’t enough to curb methane emissions. Methane emissions topped 135 million tonnes, just below the 2019 record. Around 40% of the emissions were a byproduct of the energy sector.

However, the agency also sees the exorbitant fossil fuel prices as a potential blessing in disguise. Slashing methane emissions now costs the oil and gas sector only a fraction of its soaring profits. According to the IEA, USD 100 billion would be needed for investment in the technologies needed to reduce methane emissions by 75%. This amount would cost less than 3% of the oil and gas industry’s 2022 income. 

“Our new Global Methane Tracker shows that some progress is being made but that emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough – especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming. There is just no excuse.” 

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA

According to the analysis, the most effective measure for helping countries slash emissions is to stop all non-emergency flaring and venting of methane from oil and gas operations.

Slashing Methane Emissions By Addressing Coal Mine Leaks

Methane is usually associated with gas. However, coal mines are also significant contributors to methane emissions. For example, their impact is more extensive than the shipping and aviation industries combined. According to Ember, coal mine methane emissions rival those of the oil and gas industry. 

Coal Mine Methane Emissions Per Region, Source: Ember Climate
Coal Mine Methane Emissions Per Region, Source: Ember

In 2022, coal mine operations were responsible for more than 10% of total methane emissions from human activity. 

The recent global pivot back to coal has further exacerbated the magnitude of this problem. In 2022, coal consumption increased massively and is expected to remain high in the upcoming years, according to the IEA.

Coal Mine Methane Emissions and Methane Intensity of Production in Selected Countries, 2022, Source: IEA
Coal Mine Methane Emissions and Methane Intensity of Production in Selected Countries, 2022, Source: IEA

However, the agency doesn’t think this should come at the expense of methane emissions and has come up with a solution.

The IEA’s Regulatory Guide For Methane Emissions Reduction

The Driving Down Coal Mine Methane Emissions report by the IEA highlights the most effective ways to limit coal mine methane emissions, aside from reducing consumption. The report is a regulatory roadmap and toolkit to guide policy-makers and corporate actors in reducing coal mine methane (CMM) emissions. 

IEA's 10 Steps to Implementing New Regulations For CMM Emission Reduction, Source: IEA
The IEA’s 10 Steps For Implementing New Regulations For CMM Emissions Reduction, Source: IEA

Aside from the steps above, the IEA’s regulatory roadmap and toolkit advises governments to:

  • act proactively and shape internal policies tailored to the specifics of their jurisdiction instead of waiting for a universal, one-size-fits-all solution,
  • implement policies tackling coal mine methane emissions as a priority, taking action sooner rather than later,
  • shape policies capitalising on all available regulatory approaches, including prescriptive requirements, performance-based or outcome-based requirements, economic instruments and information-based requirements and
  • monitor their efficiency and periodically review and refine their design.
Drawbacks and Benefits of Different Regulatory Approaches, Source: IEA
Drawbacks and Benefits of Different Regulatory Approaches, Source: IEA

Countries can base their regulatory approach on the IEA’s roadmap to bring down the technical, economic and institutional barriers currently curtailing the process of reducing CMM emissions.

Methane Emitters Must Act Now

As IEA’s Executive Director notes, fossil fuel producers need to step up, and policy-makers need to step in. Both must do so quickly.

Meanwhile, governments can only slash methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 75% through existing technologies.

The soaring fossil fuel prices have thrown the argument that the process is expensive out of the window.

Furthermore, the IEA’s dedicated report also includes valuable recommendations and an actionable roadmap for curbing methane emissions.

Those three factors undermine the theories that the oil and gas industry and particular governments have come up with to defend their lack of action. The IEA’s latest analysis proves they all have the means to start doing their part and must no longer hide behind false promises. 

Nowadays, slashing methane emissions is neither complicated nor expensive. In fact, as the IEA notes, it is cheaper than ever and can be achieved through existing technologies. Again, the ball is in the court of the methane emitters.

by Viktor Tachev

Viktor has years of experience in financial markets and energy finance, working as a marketing consultant and content creator for leading institutions, NGOs, and tech startups. He is a regular contributor to knowledge hubs and magazines, tackling the latest trends in sustainability and green energy.

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