Methane emissions largely underestimated, warns the IEA

Posted 23 February, 2022

Methane emissions from the energy sector are largely underestimated in official statements, alerted the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Wednesday, which calls for action against this powerful greenhouse gas to fight against climate deregulation.

According to the IEA's Global Methane Tracker 2022, methane emissions linked to the oil, gas, and coal sectors are on the rise again, with +5% in 2021.

In fact, they are also around 70% higher than the figures produced by the States, adds the Agency, which calls for "more transparency" and "stronger and immediate measures".

Methane generates about 30% of global warming. Its lifetime in the atmosphere is shorter (about ten years) than that of CO2, but its warming power is much higher: "reducing (methane emissions) would therefore have a rapid effect in the fight against global warming" climate, pleads the IEA.

The fossil fuel sector emits around 40% of the methane linked to human activities.

If in 2021 all the methane leaks linked to operations in this sector had been recovered and then sold, the market would have benefited from 180 billion cubic meters of additional natural gas. This is the equivalent of all the gas needed for the electricity sector in Europe, and more than enough to ease the current energy crisis underlines the Agency.

The report nevertheless notes a small effort: the resumption of methane emissions in 2021 did not completely follow the strong rebound in energies.

“Reducing human-generated methane emissions by 30% by the end of this decade would be equivalent for the 2050 climate to bringing the entire transport sector to net zero emissions!”, underlines the director of the IEA, Fatih Birol.

The annual report, which is based in particular on increasingly sophisticated satellite data, includes for the first time emissions by country linked to coal mining and bioenergy.

Last year saw "significant emissions" notably in Texas and parts of Central Asia, with Turkmenistan alone generating a third of the large episodes spotted by satellite in 2021.

Relatively few major leaks, on the other hand, have been detected on the major onshore oil and gas fields in the Middle East, adds the report.

Satellite coverage still needs to be improved, however, and does not concern, for example, equatorial regions, offshore or large Russian fields.

At the UN COP26 in Glasgow, a commitment to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 was presented. But of the five main emitters because of their activities in fossil fuels – China, Russia, Iran, India, USA – only the latter has so far signed it, notes the IEA.

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