Global methane emissions declined during the early stage of the pandemic, but the figure has rebounded since then. From 2020 to 2021, global methane emissions from the energy sector increased by almost five per cent as economies recovered from the pandemic’s impact, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The 2022 update of the IEA Global Methane Tracker highlights the need to monitor and reduce methane emissions. Globally, it is estimated that the energy sector’s methane emissions are about 70 per cent higher than the sum of reported figures.
The IEA emissions estimates are based on scientific studies and measurement campaigns, and are significantly higher than the official data provided, suggesting that national inventories have been under-reporting emissions.
The rise in energy-related methane emissions over the past is slightly less than it was in 2019, although overall energy demand and fossil fuel production are both back above pre-crisis level. However, the lack of data makes it difficult to pinpoint and determine the abatement efforts which contributed to the reduction in emissions.
Last year’s global methane emissions from the energy sector stood at 135 million tonnes (Mt), largely made up from coal operations (42Mt), oil (41Mt) and natural gas (39Mt). The rest is from bioenergy (9Mt) and equipment leakage (4Mt).
Emissions from bioenergy are largely due to the incomplete combustion of solid biomass, commonly used as a cooking fuel in developing countries. These emissions can be cut down by providing universal access to clean cooking fuels.
As the main component of natural gas, the leakage of methane is significant, particularly with the current situation of the volatile gas markets.
The report estimates that capturing last year’s methane leaks would’ve made an additional 180 billion cubic metres of gas available, equivalent to the amount of gas used in Europe’s power sector and enough to ease today’s price pressures.
Meanwhile, the usage of satellites has been a major help to identify emissions sources, especially for large leaks. According to the report, large leaks related to oil and gas operations were detected in 15 countries last year.
Despite the increase in areas that can be observed by satellite, the coverage is still lacking particularly in equatorial regions, northern areas or for offshore operations. The IEA believes it is essential to implement other measurement-based campaigns aside from using satellite.
The optimal system combines satellite measurements with aerial and ground-based surveys as well as continuous monitoring devices. In a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions and limit the rise in temperature, the Global Methane Pledge was launched in November 2021 at the 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). Over 110 countries have signed onto the pledge towards reducing global methane missions by at least per 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030.
The pledge is a vital step forward, said the report, but some of the countries which contribute significantly to methane emissions have not signed the pledge.
The world’s five largest methane emitters (from all sources) are, collectively, responsible for almost half of global methane emissions, and only two of the aforementioned countries are a part of the pledge.
While there is uncertainty in methane emission levels, the report urges countries to take immediate action. If all countries adopted tried and tested abatement policies, oil and gas methane leaks would be reduced by half. Among the policies are banning non-emergency flaring, imposing mandatory leak detection and repair programmes, and introducing equipment standards.Countries such as the United States and Canada have implemented key policies, with room to strengthen requirements and further expansion of coverage.
Meanwhile, Norway and Netherlands have made significant progress with robust measurement and reporting requirement, best industry practice and economic incentives.
The report said reducing methane emissions should not be limited to oil and gas operations and called for it to be extended to that of coal mines.
“Existing technology presents significant opportunities to reduce coal-related methane emissions should coal demand remains high in the future,” it said. “Methane as a greenhouse gas has contributed almost a third of the observed global warming. The energy sector is one of the biggest contributors to global methane emissions at 40 per cent, second to agriculture.”