Cutting methane emissions from oil and gas sites is vital to limiting global warming to 1.5C, the International Energy Agency said today.
In its annual World Energy Outlook, the IEA said this measure could close 15% of the gap between what was needed to limit temperature rise and today’s pledges by world governments.
The flagship report – designed as a guidebook for world leaders at next month’s climate talks in Glasgow – said there would need to be cuts in 2030 of almost 90 million tonnes of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations to keep the world on track for net zero by 2050.
“Rapid reductions in methane emissions are a key tool to limit near-term global warming, and the most cost-effective abatement opportunities are in the energy sector, particularly in oil and gas operations.
“Methane abatement is not addressed quickly or effectively enough by simply reducing fossil fuel use; concerted efforts from governments and industry are vital to secure the emissions cuts that close nearly 15% of the gap to the NZE [Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario].”
Today’s report also said the use of oil would have to fall sharply to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
For the first time in a World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicted an eventual decline in oil demand. If all today’s announced climate pledges were met, the world would still be consuming 75 million oil barrels per day by 2050 – down from around 100 million today. But to meet net zero emissions by 2050, the use of oil would need to plummet to 25 million.
The IEA said there had been “a large rebound” in oil and coal use in 2021. Largely for this reason, 2021 was also seeing the second-largest annual increase in carbon dioxide emissions in history.
The IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, said:
“The world’s hugely encouraging clean energy momentum is running up against the stubborn incumbency of fossil fuels in our energy systems.
“Governments need to resolve this at Cop26 [climate talks] by giving a clear and unmistakable signal that they are committed to rapidly scaling up the clean and resilient technologies of the future.
“The social and economic benefits of accelerating clean energy transitions are huge, and the costs of inaction are immense.”
In May 2021, the IAE said no new oil and gas fields were required beyond those already approved for development to achieve net zero emissions.
Last week, it reported that fossil fuel operations globally emitted nearly 120m tonnes of methane in 2020, nearly one-third of all methane emissions from human activity. Much of these emissions was leakage along production and supply chains that operators failed to capture or avert, the IEA said.
The organisation has estimated that more than 70% of current emissions from oil and gas operations are technically feasible to prevent and around 45% could be avoided at no net cost because the value of the captured gas is higher than the cost of the abatement measure. This share would be much higher at the moment, given the record highs in natural gas prices, it said.
The energy sector was responsible for almost three-quarters of emissions that have already pushed global average temperatures 1.1C higher than the pre-industrial age, the IEA said:
“The energy sector has to be at the heart of the solution to climate change.”
“Stark difference” between plans and net zero
The IEA described as “stark” the difference between government climate pledges and the changes needed to reach net zero.
It said a new energy economy was emerging around the world as low-carbon technologies flourished. But it said:
“this clean energy progress is still far too slow to put global emissions into sustained decline towards net zero, highlighting the need for an unmistakeable signal of ambition and action from governments in Glasgow.
“Clear signals and direction from policy makers are essential. If the road ahead is paved only with good intentions, then it will be a bumpy ride indeed.”
The report said annual investment in clean energy projects and technology needed to surge to nearly US$4tn (£2.94tn) by 2030. 70% of this would be needed in emerging markets and developing economies.
As well as methane cuts, the IEA called for:
- “Relentless” focus on energy efficiency, with measures to reduce energy demand
- “Big boost” for clean energy innovation
- “Massive additional push” for clean electrification
It said many of these actions would be cost-effective, and the costs of the remainder were insignificant compared with the immense risks of inaction.
Energy transitions would cushion consumers from the shock of commodity price rises, as currently seen in oil and gas, the IEA said. Households would be less reliant on oil and gas, because of improvements in efficiency, a switch to electric cars and a move away from oil or gas boilers. Without investment to boost clean energy, global markets would face a “turbulent and volatile period ahead”.
It described as “huge”, the potential prize for those who “make the leap to the new energy economy”. The annual market opportunity was more than $1 trillion by 2050, comparable with the current global oil market, it said.
Ruth Hayhurst will be reporting for DrillOrDrop from the Cop26 climate talks