Methane emissions from fossil fuels must be slashed immediately to limit global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.
The agency has highlighted the importance of reducing methane emissions – something now possible due to new and affordable technologies.
The organisation has published a report named The imperative of cutting methane from fossil fuels. The document shows that, while a drop in fossil fuel demand would cut methane emissions, these reductions by themselves would not occur fast enough to meet the world’s climate goals.
For this reason, its authors called for additional targeted actions to tackle methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use to be implemented. These could include eliminating routine venting and flaring and repairing leaks.
Methane is far less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2 but is responsible for around 30 per cent of the global rise in temperatures to date. Moreover, the energy sector alone accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the methane produced by human activity.
“Immediate reductions in methane emissions are needed to limit warming to 1.5°C,” the IEA said. “Without targeted action on methane, even with deep reductions in fossil fuel use, the increase in the global average surface temperature will likely exceed 1.6°C by 2050.”
The agency said 75 per cent of methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and half of that produced by coal, could be abated with existing technology at a cost of “less than two per cent of the net income earned by this industry in 2022”.
Moreover, rapid cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuels could avoid up to 0.1°C in global temperature rise by 2030, the agency found. This would have a greater impact than taking all cars and trucks in the world off the road.
“Reducing methane emissions from the energy sector is one of the best – and most affordable – opportunities to limit global warming in the near term,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said. “Early actions by governments and industry to drive down methane emissions need to go hand-in-hand with reductions in fossil fuel demand and CO2 emissions. This report sets out the clear case for strong, swift action.”
Cutting methane emissions will also have additional benefits, such as preventing nearly a million premature deaths due to ozone exposure and the loss of 90 million metric tons of crops by 2050, the IEA added. This would also translate to roughly $260bn in direct economic benefits.
Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, added: “Cutting methane doesn’t let us off the hook to make good on the just energy transition. But cutting methane is a low-hanging fruit while we work on the overall decarbonisation of our economies in tandem with supporting our societies to build greater resilience.
“We know what to do [and] we have the means to do it. There is a support system in place to help countries develop roadmaps, policies and regulations, and to provide countries and companies with credible data to drive emissions reductions. We must do it now.”
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