After carbon dioxide, methane emissions are the second-largest contributor to global warming. Although there’s less of it in the atmosphere and it has a much shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, it’s more efficient at absorbing energy. Assuming that a ton of methane is equivalent to 30 times as much carbon dioxide, the IEA said, the total global emissions from oil and gas companies matched the energy-related carbon footprint of the European Union last year.
The IEA warned that emissions could increase if fossil fuel production ramps up again. It called on companies to do more to fix leaks in pipelines and production plants, noting that many of them could be remedied at no net cost after selling the retained methane. The report suggests that, under the IEA Sustainable Development Scenario, the oil and gas sector needs to reduce emissions by over 70 percent by 2030.
The organization also urged governments to tackle the problem during United Nations climate talks in November. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency rolled back regulations on emissions.
While methane leaks can be difficult to locate, new satellites are capable of identifying large-scale ones. The IEA included satellite data in its methane tracker for the first time this year. Data from analytics company Kayrros indicated that emissions were down in Iraq, Kuwait, Turkmenistan and the US in 2020, though they rose in Russia, Algeria and Kazakhstan. The organization noted that satellites aren’t the only way to pinpoint the source of large leaks, however, since they don’t currently track data for offshore operations or in equatorial or northern regions.