Plugging leaks in oil and gas infrastructure would significantly cut methane emissions at little or no cost, according to a major new UN report on tackling climate change.
But expansion of the use of natural gas was not compatible with climate targets without “massive-scale deployment of unproven carbon removal technologies”, the report concluded.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, has been responsible for about 30% of the global warming since the pre-industrial era. It is 86 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
Despite the Covid-19 lockdowns, levels of methane in the global atmosphere reached another record in 2020.
The 173-page Global Methane Assessment, published today, said urgent action was needed to reduce methane emissions.
Global warming would not be limited to the 1.5oC target by broader decarbonisation strategies alone, it said. Focussed strategies, specifically targeting methane, were needed.
Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said:
“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide. The benefits to society, economies, and the environmental are numerous and far outweigh the cost”.
The report, by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said almost a quarter of global methane emissions from human activities were from the oil and gas industry – and most of the solutions lay with the sector:
“the fossil fuel sector has the greatest potential for targeted mitigation by 2030. Readily available targeted measures could reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector by 29–57 Mt/yr [megatonne per year].”
According to the report, up to 80% of measures in the oil and gas industry could be implemented at negative or low cost.
About 60% of methane cuts in the sector could make money because reducing leaks would make more gas available for sale.
The report called for regular inspections of sites to detect leaks and emissions, recovery and use of vented gas, improved control of fugitive emissions and replacement or repair of equipment.
There should also be incentives for improved energy efficiency, demand management and expanded use of renewables for electricity generation.
In the UK, the Climate Change Committee has already advised the Westminster government to allow venting and flaring of methane on and offshore after 2025 only for safety reasons.
“Incompatible with 1.5° C target”
Today’s report also said emissions from the global fossil fuel sector were projected to grow by about 10 Mt/year, mostly from gas and oil production and distribution.
The number of uncapped abandoned oil and gas wells was increasing and could contribute to the growth of emissions, it said.
“without relying on future massive-scale deployment of unproven carbon removal technologies, expansion of natural gas infrastructure and usage is incompatible with keeping warming to 1.5° C.”
- Research on eight North Sea oil and gas platforms has estimated methane emissions to be higher than those reported for the whole of the UK North Sea. A study in the Permian Basin in the US reported the level of methane leaks at 3.7% of all gas production.