‘Harmful and unnecessary’ methane emissions from fossil fuels on the rise, IEA warns

‘This issue can no longer be ignored,’ says climate researcher

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 23 February 2022 15:51 GMT
Methane emissions from energy sector rose in 2021 compared to year before, new report says
Methane emissions from energy sector rose in 2021 compared to year before, new report says (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Global methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry are rising and are being under-reported by the energy sector, the International Energy Agency has warned.

Tougher action is needed to rein in the potent greenhouse gas, which is the second largest contributor to global warning, a new report said.

Methane emissions from the energy sector rose by around 5 per cent last year, the IEA found.

This was driven by increases from oil, gas and coal, with levels from biofuel remaining the same, the Global Methane Tracker 2022 report said.

Methane emissions from the energy sector were also 70 per cent higher than officially reported last year, according to the IEA analysis, which estimated it was responsible for around 135 million tonnes released into the atmosphere in 2021.

The nearly five per cent year-on-year rise in emissions “was largely driven by higher fossil fuel demand and production as economies recovered from the shock of the pandemic”, according to the report.

Tim Gould, the chief energy economist at the IEA, said: “This is harmful and unnecessary when much of these emissions can easily be avoided at no net cost.”

Methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas but more potent than carbon dioxide during its lifespan. It was at the centre of a Cop26 climate summit pledge, where nearly 100 countries committed to slashing emissions by 30 per cent by the end of the decade.

The energy sector, including oil, natural gas and coal, is estimated to account for around 40 per cent of methane emissions from human activity.

The IEA report said tackling methane emissions from the energy sector was “one of the best near-term opportunities for limiting global warming because the pathways for reducing them are well known and often cost-effective”.

It said significant emissions were seen in Texas and parts of Central Asia. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan was responsible for one third of large emission events picked up by satellites.

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, said: “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.”

He said the new report “provides important insight on the scale of this climate action opportunity”.

The IEA said its findings showed enchanced efforts to monitor methane emissions, as well as stronger policy action on this, was needed to tackle the potent greenhouse gas.

It also suggested capturing methane leaks - which emit the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere - could help to tackle the current energy crisis behind rising household bills.

“Methane leaks in 2021 from fossil fuel operations, if captured and marketed, would have made an additional 180 billion cubic metres of gas available to the market, an amount similar to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector,” the report said. “This would have been comfortably enough to ease today’s price pressures.”

Anatoli Smirnov, coal mine methane lead at London-based climate research group Ember, said: “Methane leaks multiply the climate impact of burning coal. This issue can no longer be ignored.

"To date, coal companies have done very little to reduce methane leaks, despite the existence of cost-effective technologies.”

The United Nations said last year cutting methane was the world’s “strongest lever” for tackling the climate crisis. Acting quickly to cut emissions could shave 0.3C off global temperatures by 2045, it said.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in