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IEA says methane emissions from fossil fuels are expected to decrease in line with climate goals

New IEA analysis indicates that fully implementing existing commitments to reduce methane would achieve most, but not all, of the necessary emissions reductions this decade to align with a 1.5 °C temperature increase…

New analysis from IEA indicates that fully implementing current methane pledges would lead to most, but not all, of the necessary emissions reductions this decade to align with a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In 2023, methane emissions from the energy sector were close to a record high, but recent significant policies and regulations, as well as new pledges from the COP28 climate summit, have the potential to reduce them soon, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The latest update of the Global Methane Tracker by IEA. Global Methane Tracker by IEA. The Global Methane Tracker is the first comprehensive assessment of global methane emissions since the conclusion of the COP28 climate summit in December. According to the new IEA analysis, the production and use of fossil fuels led to nearly 120 million tonnes of methane emissions in 2023, a slight increase from 2022. An additional 10 million tonnes of methane emissions came from bioenergy, mainly from traditional biomass use for activities like cooking.

The report reveals that the top 10 emitting countries were responsible for about 80 million tonnes of methane emissions from fossil fuels in 2023, which accounts for two-thirds of the global total. The United States – the leading global producer of oil and gas – is also the largest emitter from oil and gas operations, closely followed by Russia. China is the highest emitter in the coal sector.

Satellites are continuing to enhance the world’s understanding of methane emissions and their sources. The report incorporates satellite readings and data from other measurement campaigns, noting a significant increase in major fossil fuel leaks in 2023 compared to 2022, with over 5 million tonnes of emissions detected – including those from a prolonged well blowout in Kazakhstan.

Global methane emissions are still too high to meet international climate targets. According to IEA analysis, a 75% reduction in methane emissions from fossil fuels is required this decade to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A 75% reduction in methane emissions from fossil fuels by 2030 is crucial to prevent the planet from warming to a hazardous level. Recent momentum gives hope, as the analysis indicates it could have a significant and immediate impact on the world's fight against climate change.IEA Executive Director stated, Fatih Birol said. “Lastly, the focus must now shift to turning commitments into action, while aiming for even higher targets. Established policies and existing technologies could substantially reduce methane emissions from fossil fuels. IEA is prepared to assist the energy sector in achieving these targets and will continue to monitor progress as part of broader efforts to ensure countries fulfill the energy commitments made at COP28.

Efforts to reduce methane emissions are anticipated to accelerate in 2024 and beyond, following the ambition set by COP28. Nearly 200 governments agreed in Dubai to significantly reduce methane emissions by 2030, and Canada, the European Union, and the United States announced substantial regulatory initiatives around the summit. Additionally, new companies have committed to action through the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter, and more countries, including Azerbaijan, are joining the Global Methane Pledge as they prepare to host COP29.

If all promises to reduce methane emissions made by countries and companies are carried out completely and on time, it would be enough to decrease methane emissions from fossil fuels by 50% by 2030, according to the IEA’s new analysis. However, most promises do not yet have plans for implementation.

Methane is responsible for nearly a third of the increase in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and the energy sector – including oil, natural gas, coal and bioenergy – is the second largest source of methane emissions from human activity. While methane in the atmosphere disappears faster than carbon dioxide, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas during its short life. Consequently, reducing methane emissions is one of the most effective ways to limit global warming and improve air quality in the short term.

It is also highly cost-effective. According to the IEA’s new analysis, about 40% of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations in 2023 could have been avoided at no net cost, because the value of the captured methane was higher than the cost of the abatement measure. Decreasing methane emissions from fossil fuels by 75% by 2030 would require around USD 170 billion in spending – less than 5% of the income generated by the fossil fuel industry in 2023.

At the same time, an increasing number of advanced satellites are monitoring methane leaks, such as the Environmental Defense Fund’s MethaneSAT which was recently launched, making it easier to identify and address them. These satellites are also filling in gaps and uncertainties in the data by providing timely information that may otherwise be omitted from reports.

Currently, methane emissions reported by existing oil and gas companies are 95% lower than the IEA’s estimate for 2023, while emissions levels reported by countries are about 50% lower. All data informing the analysis in the latest Global Methane Tracker can be accessed for free. An open-access model for exploring methane reduction options for oil and gas operations will also be released soon. Global Methane Tracker can be accessed for free hereAn open-access tool for exploring methane reduction options for oil and gas operations will be released soon.

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