Global methane emissions seriously under reported, IEA analysis finds
Energize Weekly, March 2, 2022
Global energy sector methane emissions are an estimated 70 percent higher than the figures reported by countries to the United Nations, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Nations report emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but the IEA said its analyses using satellite and on-the-ground direct measurement data discovered big emission disparities.
“This mismatch exists at both global and national levels and for all sources of emissions,” the IEA said. “Many official greenhouse gas submissions to the UNFCCC have not been updated for years, and, even for those that have, many of these inventories are not yet accurate enough to provide a clear picture of emissions.”
Methane accounts for about 30 percent of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. It is more potent, but shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
In 2021, atmospheric concentrations of methane continued to grow reaching a record 1,876 parts per billion, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Programme, a climate monitoring group.
Over 100 years, methane is about 30 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Naturally created methane from wetlands account for the largest share of emissions, about 191million tons in 2021, the IEA said. That was followed by agriculture at 141 million tons. Countries reported only 127.7 million tons of agricultural emissions to the UN.
The next largest source – and the one seriously underestimated – is the energy sector. “The energy sector – including oil, natural gas, coal and bioenergy – accounts for around 40 percent methane emissions from human activity,” the IEA said.
Reports to the UNFCCC put energy sector methane emissions for 2021 at 72.2 million tons, but the IEA analysis calculates that it is closer to 135.2 million tons.
The largest share – 43.6 million tons – came from coal mines, followed by oil operations at 42.9 million tons. Natural gas contributed 39.6 million tons and bioenergy another 9.1 million tons.
Among countries, China posted the largest share of emissions, 16 percent of the total, but less than half were attributed to the energy sector. Similarly, India, with an 8.9 percent global share saw only 16 percent coming from energy, while agriculture was the largest source of methane.
The U.S. accounted for 8.8 percent of global emissions, 31,460 kilotons, with the energy sector the largest source, 54 percent of the total.
For Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, the energy sector was the prime source with more than 60 percent of emissions in each country. The three accounted for 10 percent of global emissions, with Russia the main culprit.
The satellite data also recorded significant emissions in Texas and Central Asia, with Turkmenistan alone responsible for one-third of large emissions events in 2021.
Relatively few major leaks were detected for the major onshore oil and gas producers in the Middle East.
“The wasteful leakage of methane, the main component of natural gas, is all the more striking given today’s backdrop of very tight and volatile gas markets,” the IEA said.
If the methane leaks detected in 2021 had been captured and marketed, they would have added 180 billion cubic meters of gas to the market, an amount similar to all the gas used in Europe’s power sector.
“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,” Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director, said in a statement.