Cutting methane emissions needs to be a bigger priority in order to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
However, cutting fossil fuel production isn’t enough to cut methane emissions, and other areas, such as eliminating routine venting and flaring and repairing leaks, are critical to meeting emissions reductions goals. In fact, rapid cuts in methane emissions could prevent a 0.1 degree Celsius global temperature rise by mid-century, the report found. That’s a bigger impact than” taking all cars and trucks in the world off the road,” the IEA stated.
The findings come as many of the heaviest emission-producing industries are focused on adding decarbonization methods. For example, oil companies are taking a harder look at carbon capture and storage solutions as well as scaling up hydrogen production. Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution and is the second largest contributor to global warming behind carbon dioxide, according to the IEA.
“More than three-quarters of methane emissions from oil and gas operations and half of emissions from coal can be abated with existing technology, often at low cost,” the report stated.
Emissions Reductions and Decarbonization
Cutting emissions needs more urgency, however.
Reducing methane emissions would have immediate public health, food security, and economic benefits, as methane creates ground-level ozone pollution. Action on methane emissions would prevent nearly 1 million premature deaths due to ozone exposure, 90 million metric tons of crop losses due to ozone and climate changes, and about 85 billion hours of lost labor due to extreme heat by 2050, according to the UNEP/CCAC Global Methane Assessment, published in 2021.
“Reducing methane emissions from the energy sector is one of the best — and most affordable — opportunities to limit global warming in the near term,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “Early actions by governments and industry to drive down methane emissions need to go hand-in-hand with reductions in fossil fuel demand and CO2 emissions. This report sets out the clear case for strong, swift action.”
Current projections predict total methane emissions from human activities could rise by up to 13% between 2020 and 2030. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, methane emissions need to fall 30% to 60% over this timeframe, the report found. Half of those reductions need to come from cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuel production.
The IEA’s latest report was published at MENA Climate Week 2023, a forum for leaders to discuss climate and energy issues in the Middle East and North Africa during the Global Stocktake process.
See the full report here.