Progress on methane emissions by energy companies, but numbers still don’t add up

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Over 80 oil and gas companies across the world have committed to measuring and reducing their methane emissions, the second biggest driver of global warming, according to a new report by the UN environment agency (UNEP).

Slashing emissions of methane is the single fastest way to tackle climate change in the short term, says UNEP, as the greenhouse gas remains in the atmosphere for far fewer years than carbon dioxide.

The report, compiled by the International Methane Emissions Observatory, an independent entity launched in 2021 to integrate data and track progress against commitments from companies and governments, indicates that while more companies are now part of a large effort to reduce methane, further progress is needed to reliably quantify industry emissions.

“As UNEP’s recent Emissions Gap Report showed, the world is far off track to keep climate change to 1.5°C,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Companies are making progress, but they must move faster and harder. We need more companies to act, and they must be bolder”, she added.

Sixty members are on the programme’s “Gold Standard” pathway – having committed in their implementation plans to sequentially improve the quality of their reported data – and are showing progress in moving towards measurement-based estimates of methane emissions.

However, twelve member companies are not on track: two lost their Gold Standard status compared to last year, seven did not achieve it either year, and three companies reporting for the first time in 2022, did not achieve it.

Meanwhile, recently published studies set the estimate for total global methane emissions from the industry at 80-140 million tons per year, while the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) methane tracker estimates emissions at the lower end of this range.

Yet, total emissions from this year’s reporting by OGMP 2.0 member companies are 1.3 million tons of methane for both operated and non-operated assets. This represents a large discrepancy between the estimates of global industry emissions and the proportional share reported by partnership’s member companies.

Although the quality of reported data has improved, the agency warns that the majority of assets are not yet reporting measurement-based emissions, and a significant amount of assets non-operated by OGMP 2.0 member companies haven’t been reported yet.

To keep the average temperature increase at 1.5°C, the world needs urgently to reduce methane emissions by about a third, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report published in April 2022.

But reducing methane emissions does not reduce the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

UNEP explains that while a rapid transition away from fossil fuels is the ultimate goal, it is also important to curb methane emissions during the transition.

“Looking at the bigger picture, the best way for the oil and gas industry to end methane emissions, and all emissions, is to rethink entirely their roles as energy companies.

“If the industry is serious about a net-zero future – as it must be to provide a shot at health, wealth, and prosperity for all – this must be the long-term goal”, Ms. Andersen underscored.

The International Methane Emissions Observatory is creating the world’s first global public database of empirically verified methane emissions, starting with the fossil fuel sector, at a level of granularity and accuracy never achieved before.

The lack of reliable emissions data has made it hard for governments to carry out targeted action at the scale and speed needed to achieve the objectives of the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) launched during the UN Climate Conference COP26 last year by over 120 countries.

That aims to bring about a reduction of global methane emissions by 30 per cent, by 2030.

“To reduce methane emissions, we need to know more. Who is emitting, where, and how much? What you do not measure, does not get addressed,” said Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy.

The UNEP Observatory’s focus has also now expanded to cover other major categories of emitters, collectively responsible for 75 per cent of methane emissions in 2017.

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