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Methane emissions remain stubbornly high: IEA


The IEA’s latest update of its Global Methane Tracker finds that methane emissions remained stubbornly high in 2022, and highlights the need for the oil and gas sector to step up to slash emissions

The global energy industry was responsible for 135mn tonnes of methane released into the atmosphere in 2022, only slightly below the record highs seen in 2019. Today, the energy sector accounts for around 40% of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, second only to agriculture.

Cutting methane emissions is one of the most effective ways to limit global warming and improve air quality in the near term. Methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be reduced by 75% with existing technologies, highlighting a lack of industry action on an issue that is often very cheap to address, the IEA says. Less than 3% of the income accrued by oil and gas companies worldwide last year would be required to make the US$100bn investment in technologies needed to achieve this reduction.

"Our new Global Methane Tracker shows that some progress is being made but that emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough – especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming. There is just no excuse,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol. “The Nord Stream pipeline explosion last year released a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere. But normal oil and gas operations around the world release the same amount of methane as the Nord Stream explosion every single day."

Stopping all non-emergency flaring and venting of methane is the most impactful measure countries can take to rein in emissions. Around 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of methane is currently lost to the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations. Three-quarters of this could be retained and brought to market using tried and tested policies and technologies.   

Satellites are providing an ever-clearer picture of methane emissions and greatly increasing the world’s knowledge of emission sources. The IEA’s Global Methane Tracker incorporates their latest readings along with data from other science-based measurement campaigns. In 2022 alone, more than 500 super-emitting events were detected by satellites from oil and gas operations and a further 100 were seen at coal mines.

"The untamed release of methane in fossil fuel production is a problem that sometimes goes under the radar in public debate,” Birol said. “Unfortunately, it’s not a new issue and emissions remain stubbornly high. Many companies saw hefty profits last year following a turbulent period for international oil and gas markets amid the global energy crisis. Fossil fuel producers need to step up and policy makers need to step in – and both must do so quickly."

Commenting on the report, OIl & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) executive committee chair Bjorn Otto Sverdrup said, “The IEA is right to point out that there’s a huge opportunity to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and much of the technology to do that already exists.

“Eliminating methane emissions from oil and gas operations is one of the quickest ways to meet the Paris Agreement targets and OGCI has already shown strong industry leadership on this critical issue. OGCI’s members have already collectively reduced upstream methane emissions by 40% since 2017.

“And the Aiming for Zero initiative we launched last year is helping to steer the wider oil and gas industry toward further methane reductions by shifting the industry’s mindset to treat emissions of the gas as seriously as the industry treats safety.” 

The Global Methane Pledge, launched in November 2021 at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, marked an important step forward by bringing governments together on this issue. The pledge now has around 150 participants that have collectively committed to reduce methane emissions from human activities by 30% by 2030.