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Fossil fuel sector has 'best potential' to reduce methane emissions: report

Highlights

'Urgent steps' needed to cut methane emissions this decade

Fossil fuel sector responsible for 35% of emissions

Capturing methane adds to oil, gas sector revenues

The fossil fuel sector has the "best potential" to reduce human-caused methane emissions in the 2020s, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) shows.

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The report published late May 6 said a 45% reduction in human-caused methane emissions by 2030 would put the world on a path to achieving the Paris Agreement goal to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.

Methane is significantly more polluting than carbon dioxide, with estimates suggesting it is 84 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year timeframe.

According to the International Energy Agency, oil and gas operations worldwide emitted some 72 million mt of methane into the atmosphere in 2020, broadly equivalent to the total energy-related CO2 emissions from the entire EU.

The biggest two emitters, the IEA said, were Russia -- Europe's biggest gas supplier -- and the US, which too has emerged as a significant supplier of LNG to Europe.

Revenue add

In the CCAC/UNEP report, it was estimated that the fossil fuel sector is responsible for 35% of human-caused methane emissions.

"The assessment identifies measures that specifically target methane," it said. "By implementing these readily available solutions, methane emissions can be reduced by 30% by 2030. Most are in the fossil fuel sector where it is relatively easily to locate and fix methane leaks and reduce venting," it said.

The greatest potential for negative costs is also in the oil and gas industry, the report said, where preventing leaks and capturing methane adds to revenue instead of releasing the gas into the atmosphere.

Inger Andersen, executive director of 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."

"We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade," Andersen said.

Drew Shindell, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, said "urgent steps" must be taken to reduce methane emissions.

"The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available," Shindell said.

EU, US action

Both the EU and US are implementing legislative measures to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The European Commission last October published its first ever strategy aimed at curbing methane emissions and plans to bring forward legislative proposals on the issue over the course of 2021.

It plans to focus its initial legislative proposals on "low-cost" initiatives for the energy sector such as methane emissions detection and repair, and the elimination of gas flaring.

But the strategy also includes plans for the EC to engage with producer countries on best practices for cutting methane emissions.

The EC said that, if producing countries did not make significant commitments to cutting methane emissions, it would consider proposing legislation on targets, standards or other incentives to ensure lower emissions for fossil gas used in the EU.

Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy, said May 6: "Building on the EU methane strategy last October, this UN report highlights just how damaging methane emissions can be, and the need to take concerted action at international level."

In the US, the Senate last month passed a bi-partisan vote to reinstate Obama-era regulations to control leaks from oil and gas wells. It requires companies to monitor, plug and capture methane from new drilling sites.

"The US is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally -- through measures like research and development, standards to control fossil and landfill methane, and incentives to address agricultural methane." Rick Duke, senior advisor to the US Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change, said.