Rapid international steps taken to tackle methane emissions from oil, gas, and coal operations would have immediate impact on combating short-term global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday in a new report.
Methane has been responsible for about 30% of the global temperature rise to date and climate action cannot focus only on carbon dioxide, according to the report, titled Curtailing methane emissions from fossil fuel operations: Pathways to a 75% cut by 2030, which estimates that over 70% of current emissions from oil and gas operations are technically feasible to prevent.
Due to methane's potent effect on global warming, reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas is essential to avoiding near-term warming.
Globally, fossil fuel operations emitted around 120 million metric tons (132 million US tons) of methane last year, corresponding to nearly a third of all methane emissions from human activity.
The IEA said that much of these emissions are simply leakage in the production and supply chain that operators fail to capture or avert.
These emissions can be prevented via cost-effective methods and around 45% of them could typically be avoided at no net cost as the value of the captured gas is higher than the cost of the abatement measures, said the report.
This share would be much higher now, given record-high gas prices, it added.
Shortage in natural gas supply, the decrease in electricity production from renewable sources, and increasing demand has led to an unprecedented rise in European natural gas prices, which surged over 600% in a year.
"At a time when we are constantly being reminded of the damaging effects of climate change, it is inexcusable that massive amounts of methane continue to be allowed to just seep into the air from fossil fuel operations," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol was quoted as saying.
"These emissions are avoidable, the solutions are proven and even profitable in many cases. And the benefits in terms of avoided near-term warming are huge. I welcome the renewed impetus behind this issue with the Global Methane Pledge, announced by the European Union (EU) and the US and urge all countries and companies to step up their actions," he added.
The Global Methane Pledge is an initiative to reduce global methane emissions from human activity by 30% by 2030 and was announced in September by the EU and US. It will be launched at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be held in November in Glasgow.
According to the IEA's Roadmap to Net Zero Emissions by 2050, methane emissions from fossil fuel operations must fall by around 75% between 2020 and 2030. Almost one-third of this decline is a result of an overall reduction in fossil fuel consumption but the larger share is expected to come from measures and technologies aimed at reducing emissions from existing fields, pipelines, and mines.
As eventual declines in demand for fossil fuels alone will not achieve rapid enough reductions of methane emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change, quick action is needed, the IEA urged.
If a 75% cut in methane from fossil fuel operations is achieved, this would lower total human-caused methane emissions by around 25%, the report found.
The IEA said multiple jurisdictions around the world have employed policy tools on the issue, while some countries included methane alongside other greenhouse gases in their national net zero pledges.