Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

IEA Global Methane Tracker Finds Emissions Undercounted and Rising

Washington, DC, 23 February 2022 — According to the latest analysis released by the International Energy Agency today super polluting global methane emissions are significantly undercounted and on the rise. The 2022 update of the IEA Global Methane Tracker emphasizes once again that methane mitigation presents the biggest, fastest and cheapest opportunity for climate action in the near term, and is critical for keeping the 1.5 °C temperature target in sight.

Since the release of its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C in 2018, and again reinforced in the 2021 Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), the IPCC has been clear that to limit warming to 1.5 °C, with no or limited overshoot, requires pulling back three separate levers: cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030; making deep cuts to methane and the other short-lived super climate pollutants by the 2040s and;  removing 500 to 1000 billion tonnes of CO2 by the end of the century.

“To slow the rate of warming in the next two decades decarbonization must occur in tandem with deep cuts to methane and the other super-climate pollutants, as decarbonization alone cannot reduce warming fast enough to slow the dangerous self-reinforcing feedbacks where the Earth starts to warm itself,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “While decarbonization starts to slow warming significantly after 2060, it actually increases the rate of warming for the first decade or two as the cooling aerosols co-emitted with burning coal and diesel are phased out alongside the CO2 emissions.”

“It’s critical to transition to clean energy as fast as possible and achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. But if we don’t eliminate methane leaks during the transition, we’ll lose control of the climate system before we reach 2050. This is not a zero-sum game. We need to do both to survive,” Zaelke added.

The world needs to focus on “implementation plus”, as called for by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, which includes decarbonization plus fast mitigation from cutting methane and the other short-lived climate pollutants such as hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, black carbon soot, and tropospheric (or ground-level) ozone. It also includes stopping deforestation and otherwise protecting natural carbon sinks.

The 2022 update of the IEA Global Methane Tracker provides, for the first time, a complete set of country-level estimates for methane emissions from the energy sector, which is responsible for around 40% of total anthropogenic methane emissions. The tracker also found that methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70% greater than the amount national governments have officially reported.

The findings come just three months after 111 nations agreed to support the Global Methane Pledge launched at COP26, November 2021. Led by the European Commission and the United States, participants agreed to reduce global methane emissions from human activities – including agriculture, the energy sector, and other sources – by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. The pledge shows a powerful commitment for fast methane mitigation but much remains to be done as promises are not yet on track and methane concentrations in the atmosphere are growing at record rates.

The inclusion in the Global Methane Tracker of country-by-country estimates for coal activities, alongside those for oil and gas operations, found China the largest source of global energy-related methane emissions, followed by Russia and the United States.

Durwood Zaelke further added, “the IEA’s Global Methane Tracker is an indispensable resource to tackle dangerous methane emissions. Satellite observation of high leak rates can help identify the worst and marginally less bad producers providing a pathway for where policy efforts will be most effective. This information can facilitate decision-making in real-time, for example with Germany’s rejection of Nord Stream 2, the Russian gas pipeline designed to double the amount of Russian gas flowing into Germany. Now there is an opportunity to favor gas with the lowest methane leak rates.”

“The only way to prevent the very worst of climate impacts requires aggressive methane mitigation today. A mitigation opportunity this big and this fast can’t be left to a pledge. The heads of State need to negotiate a formal methane agreement, just as they are about to start for the threat from plastics. The next step will be to develop a global methane agreement inspired by the Montreal Protocol.”

Watch the IEA Global Methane Tracker release here.

The Global Methane Tracker is here.