IEA Finds Vast Under-Reporting of Methane Emissions

The agency’s new Global Methane Tracker analysis reports that methane emissions from the energy sector are 70% higher than official figures.

Source: IEA

Global methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70% greater than the amount national governments have officially reported, according to new analysis released by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The energy sector accounts for around 40% of methane emissions from human activity, and this year’s expanded edition of the IEA’s Global Methane Tracker includes country-by-country emissions from coal mines and bioenergy for the first time, in addition to continued detailed coverage of oil and natural gas operations. Methane emissions from the energy sector grew by just under 5% last year. This did not bring them back to their 2019 levels and slightly lagged the rise in overall energy use, indicating that some efforts to limit emissions may already be paying off.

“At today’s elevated natural gas prices, nearly all of the methane emissions from oil and gas operations worldwide could be avoided at no net cost,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The International Energy Agency has been a longstanding champion of stronger action to cut methane emissions. A vital part of those efforts is transparency on the size and location of the emissions, which is why the massive underreporting revealed by our Global Methane Tracker is so alarming.”

Last year, significant emissions were confirmed in Texas and parts of Central Asia, with Turkmenistan alone responsible for one-third of large emissions events seen by satellites in 2021. Relatively few major leaks were detected for the major onshore oil and gas producers in the Middle East.

Satellites have greatly increased the world’s knowledge of emission sources, and the IEA Global Methane Tracker incorporates the latest readings from satellites and other science-based measurement campaigns. While measured data continues to improve, the coverage provided by satellites is still far from complete: Existing satellites do not provide measurements over equatorial regions, offshore operations, or northern areas such as the main Russian oil- and gas-producing areas.

The IEA’s analysis points out that uncertainty over emissions levels is no reason to delay action, adding that major reductions can be achieved with known technologies and with tested policies that have been proven to work effectively. The Global Methane Tracker includes a new detailed policy explorer that provides examples of effective implementation and shows where these policies could be most effective.

If all methane leaks from fossil fuel operations in 2021 had been captured and sold, natural gas markets would have been supplied with an additional 180 billion m3 of natural gas. That is equivalent to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector and more than enough to ease today’s market tightness.

The intensity of methane emissions from fossil-fuel operations range widely from country to country; the best-performing countries and companies are over 100 times better than the worst. Global methane emissions from oil and gas operations would fall by more than 90% if all producing countries matched Norway’s emissions intensity, the lowest worldwide.

The Global Methane Pledge, launched in November by more than 110 countries at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, marked an important step forward. Led by the European Union and the United States, its participants agreed to reduce methane emissions from human activities — including agriculture, the energy sector, and other sources — by 30% by 2030. Of the five countries with the largest methane emissions from their energy sectors — China, Russia, the United States, Iran, and India — only the United States currently is part of the pledge.

“Cutting methane pollution is the fastest way to mitigate climate change, and cutting wasteful venting, leaking, and flaring from oil and gas systems is the fastest way to cut methane,” said John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate. “The IEA’s new report provides important insight on the scale of this climate action opportunity. It also highlights the need for governments to enhance the accuracy of their methane-emissions data in national inventories and to act together to cut emissions at least 30% by 2030 under the Global Methane Pledge.”

Birol added that a 30% cut in methane emissions by the end of the decade “would have the same effect on global warming by 2050 as shifting the entire transport sector to net-zero CO2 emissions.”

Read the report here.