Climate Change

Targeted methane mitigation can avoid 0.1°C warming in 2050, should be adopted with decarbonisation efforts: Report

These solutions are also estimated to be cost-effective, says IEA-UNEP 

By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Thursday 12 October 2023
Photo: iStock

Dedicated actions to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use will be essential to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius over pre-industrial temperature levels, according to a new report. 

Such solutions would avoid roughly 0.1°C warming in 2050, noted the report released jointly by the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UNEP-convened Climate and Clean Air Coalition. 

The organisations called for rapid cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuels as it will prevent global warming to an extent “greater than the emissions impact of immediately taking all cars and trucks in the world off the road”. 

These methane abatement measures should be above and beyond the decarbonisation efforts for the energy sector, urged the authors of the report. “Without targeted action on methane, even with deep reductions in fossil fuel use, the increase in the global average surface temperature will likely exceed 1.6°C by 2050,” they noted in the paper launched at the MENA Climate Week 2023 being held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and is estimated to have been responsible for 30 per cent of the global warming since the Industrial Revolution, according to the report. Although it remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time than carbon dioxide, it is a significantly more potent. 

Around 580 million tonnes (Mt) of methane is emitted every year globally, 60 per cent of which comes from human activities, according to the latest assessment cited in the report. In 2022, fossil fuel operations alone were responsible for around 120 Mt of methane emissions, the authors highlighted. 

“Under current trajectories, total anthropogenic methane emissions could rise by up to 13 per cent between 2020 and 2030,” they added.

But simply limiting the use of fossil fuels, even in the scenario where Net Zero Emissions are achieved by 2050, will not be enough to reduce methane emissions by the quantum needed to meet climate goals. Targeted methane mitigation is, thus, imperative, the authors stressed. 

And these solutions are also estimated to be cost-effective, they added. “The fossil fuel sector likely holds the largest potential for rapid and low-cost reductions in methane emissions. We estimate that more than 80 Mt of annual methane emissions from fossil fuels can be avoided by 2030 using existing technologies, often at low – or even negative – cost.”

Around $75 billion is required by 2030 for all methane abatement measures in the oil and gas sector in the Net Zero scenario, according to the findings. “This is equivalent to less than 2 per cent of the income generated by the oil and gas industry in 2022,” the experts wrote.

Controlling methane emissions will also provide health benefits and enhance food security, they highlighted. Methane is the primary reason for ground-level ozone pollution and mitigation efforts will help prevent “nearly one million premature deaths through 2050, which is equivalent to the current population of Amsterdam, Netherlands”, they underlined, citing the Global Methane Assessment. 

The economic benefits of reducing methane emissions also far outweigh the costs, according to the analysis. Achieving methane reduction targets will result in prevention of 95 million tonnes of crop losses for wheat, rice, soy and maize (corn), the experts observed. “These savings are equivalent to roughly 60 per cent of the volume of wheat, rice, soy and maize produced in Africa in 2021.” 

Avoiding such losses of crops, labour and forestry will “provide direct economic benefits valued at more than $260 billion between 2020 and 2050”, according to the report. 

Actions such as eliminating routine venting and flaring and repairing leaks are a must to reducing methane emissions from the energy sector and for this, the organisations called for appropriate regulatory frameworks. 

“ Most measures can and should be financed by the industry itself, but a number of low- and middle-income countries may face barriers to accessing capital for some interventions, which may not be implemented without concessional financing,” the authors added.

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