Аs the COP26 Summit approaches, preliminary discussions are heating up and outcomes remain unknown. We can expect, however, that the issue of methane emissions will rise to new prominence. [1] The Global Methane Pledge by the US and EU is one example.  First announced in September, it will be formally launched at the conference. The Pledge commits signatories to “a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions, with a particular focus on high emission sources”.[2]

Methane is the main component of natural gas (fossil or renewable), so this is highly relevant to the global gas industry – albeit notably renewable natural gas (biogas / biomethane) can also be an effective route for directly reducing methane emissions. The production of biogas offsets methane emissions coming from other sectors, as well as CO2 emissions in energy, as it reduces fossil fuel consumption. [3]

Mitigating methane emissions plays a major part in meeting the Paris greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals. Methane is the second most important GHG after carbon dioxide (CO2). Its warming effect is significantly stronger in the short-term, which makes it a more potent climate forcer than CO2 in the nearest decade, with atmospheric life of about 12 years. Therefore, methane emissions mitigation is an urgent matter, as long as it is not at the expense of a continued step-up in CO2 mitigation – which has a much more significant compounding effect on long-term warming, due to its millennia-long life.

The IGU has been a high profile advocate for continued quantification, documentation, and reduction of methane emissions amongst its members and beyond since at least 2016, when the IGU Group of Experts on Methane Emissions was first formed. Mitigating methane emissions from our operations is an opportunity to enhance the environmental and commercial case for gas even further. It makes all kinds of sense.  While safety was the primary initial motivating factor, the net result was a significant reduction of emissions throughout the global industry.

Without a doubt, there is more to be done.

No two gas systems are created equal – around the world, and across the value chain – and while there can be significant, cost-effective reduction opportunities in some areas of the global energy system, others may be facing diminishing returns on reductions investment – if the baseline is already extremely low and near zero, for example.

Nevertheless, as the science, technology have been rapidly advancing and environmental urgency strengthening, so has the industry’s efforts to go above and beyond existing safety requirements. From individual targets to group initiatives, the gas industry has shown both commitment and action – often via voluntary and highly ambitious initiatives. Some examples include: Global Methane Alliance targeting a 45% reduction by 2025[4]; Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) 2.0, aiming to promote tracking performance across operators;  Methane Guiding Principles (MGP) collaboration between industry and supporting orgnisations; Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), reaching its 2025 target to bring down methane emissions intensity to 0.25% early, and raising it to well below 0.2%. The Global Methane Initiative is a broader organisation aimed at identifying and deploying practical and cost-effective methane mitigation technologies and methods across various sectors. These are just some of the international examples, and there are many regional[5] and local ones.

The Gas Industry Cannot Do It Alone

As Dr. David Allen of University of Texas reminded us in the recent methane-emissions focused issue of the IGU GVG magazine, roughly 40% of global methane emissions occur naturally. Some of these sources include wetlands, termites, and hydrates. The remaining 60% come from human activity, including energy systems, rice and other agriculture, livestock operations, landfills, waste treatment, and biomass burning. [6]

The global gas industry is only a single source of the global methane emissions, amongst many. Namely, the global gas industry contributes somewhere between 6 and 8% of the total atmospheric methane emissions, and about 13% of the manmade part.[7] That is very significant, but often it seems that the gas industry is wrongly portrayed to be the only, or the main, source. The coal value chain for instance emits about the same amount of methane, in addition to emitting more than double the CO2 and an order of magnitude more airborne pollutants when combusted. Agriculture too is a major source of methane emissions, and due to warming of the planet – some of the natural sources may be getting more significant (e.g. thawing permafrost). One thing is certain is that delaying action to reduce global methane emissions is not an option.

So, the main goal of the global community should be achieving the maximum possible reductions in the shortest possible time – not unlike the Global Methane Pledge, which is a global, economy-wide goal. That means that economy-wide and outcome-oriented approaches to mitigating, including opportunities across sectors should be prioritised by policymakers.

The IGU with members in more than 80 countries, across all five continents will continue to advocate for quantifying, documenting, and reducing of gas sector emissions in all corners of the world. The gas industry will continue to do its part, as it has been. What will help is a collective approach to achieving the greatest impact, including incentives for areas where operators are facing significant cost recovery challenges, and availability of capital for upfront investments – when they face liquidity barriers.  It is not a zero-sum game, and the most impactful approaches would be those that focus on the ultimate target of reducing the concentration of methane in the atmosphere.

Reducing the global methane emissions is the right thing to do. Mitigating and eliminating methane emissions from the gas value chain provides an opportunity to secure a sustainable energy future, in which natural gas today, and increasingly low carbon, renewable, and decarbonised gases in the future, will play a vital role.

The gas industry is committed, like no other, to prevent the loss of its product and to ensure that it maximizes its contribution to the sustainable energy future and a just energy transition. However, we cannot do it alone, nor would methane be sufficiently reduced if it does.



[1] Methane has already been part of the global GHG calculus in the UNFCC emissions reporting and assessments, but it has been accounted for in CO2 equivalence units (using a climate impact conversion factor). What is different this year, is the push to account for methane on its own and not via CO2 equivalency, so as to encourage dedicated methane emissions reduction commitments.

[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/18/joint-us-eu-press-release-on-the-global-methane-pledge/

[3] It is produced by capturing methane emissions from waste or biomass that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, as a product of decomposition.

[4] OGMP 2.0 now counts 67 companies among its participants

[5] A few recent examples, and there are many more: European gas system operators’ recent commitment: https://www.enagas.es/stfls/ENAGAS/Notas%20de%20prensa/20211013_PressRelease_GERG_Project%20ENG.pdf.

[6] Allen, D. 2021. “Why Methane Emissions and Why Now?” Global Voice of Gas 4(1) https://igu.org/news/global-voice-of-gas-4/

[7] The oil and gas industry contributes roughly a quarter of the world’s man-made methane emissions – or about 15% of the total methane emissions budget, and the gas industry is responsible for roughly half of that.

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