Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 20 March 2023

IEA’s annual report

Source: By Alind Chauhan: The Indian Express

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual Methane Global Tracker report, fossil fuel companies emitted 120 million metric tonnes of methane into the atmosphere in 2022, only slightly below the record highs seen in 2019. It added that these companies have done almost nothing to curb the emissions despite their pledges to find and fix leaking infrastructure.

The report said 75 per cent of methane emissions from the energy sector can be reduced with the help of cheap and readily available technology. The implementation of such measures would cost less than three per cent of the net income received by the oil and gas industry in 2022, but fossil fuel companies failed to take any substantial action regarding the issue.

The report has come just weeks after energy giants such as ShellBPExxonMobil and others reported record profits last year as the Russia-Ukraine war drove up oil and natural gas prices, Associated Press reported.

“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.

What are the findings of the report?

The energy sector accounts for around 40 per cent of the total average methane emissions from human activity, as oil and natural gas companies are known to release methane into the atmosphere when natural gas is flared or vented. The greenhouse gas is also released through leaks from valves and other equipment during the drilling, extraction and transportation process.

More than 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas (mostly composed of methane) is wasted through flaring and methane leaks globally today,” the report said. Although it’s impossible to avoid this entire amount, the right policies and implementation can bring 200 bcm of additional gas to markets.

“In the oil and gas sector, emissions can be reduced by over 75 per cent by implementing well-known measures such as leak detection and repair programmes and upgrading leaky equipment,” the report pointed out. It further mentioned that 80 per cent of the available options to curb the release of methane could be implemented by the fossil fuel industry at net zero cost.

“Based on average natural gas prices from 2017 to 2021, we estimate that around 40 per cent of methane emissions from oil and gas operations could be avoided at no net cost because the outlays for the abatement measures are less than the market value of the additional gas that is captured,” the report explained.

Ultimately, reducing 75 per cent of the wastage of natural gas could lower global temperature rise by nearly 0.1 degree Celsius by mid-century. This would have the same effect on the soaring global temperatures as immediately stopping greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses and two- and three-wheeler vehicles across the world. However, fossil fuel companies have done little to tackle the problem.

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 policymakers need to step in – and both must do so quickly.”

How are methane emissions driving climate change?

Methane is a greenhouse gas, which is responsible for 30 per cent of the warming since preindustrial times, second only to carbon dioxide. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme observed that over a 20-year periodmethane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.

In recent years, scientists have repeatedly sounded the alarm regarding the increasing amount of methane in the atmosphere. Last year, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that the atmospheric levels of methane jumped 17 parts per billion in 2021, beating the previous record set in 2020.

“While carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for much longer than methane, methane is roughly 25 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and has an important short-term influence on the rate of climate change,” the agency said.

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