IEA: Methane emissions at an all-time high need to be reduced by 75% by 2030 at a cost of $170bn

IEA: Methane emissions at an all-time high need to be reduced by 75% by 2030 at a cost of $170bn
Methane emissions are at an all-time high and need to be reduced by 75% by 2030 if there is to be any hope of keeping to the Paris Accords target of a 1.5C temperature rise. / bne IntelliNews
By International Energy Agency April 11, 2024

Methane emissions are 80 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Rather than falling, they are currently at an all-time high and rising. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its latest methane tracker that the amount of emissions needs to fall by 75% by 2030 if there is any hope of staying inside the 2015 Paris Accord target of a 1.5C increase in temperatures, and that this will cost around $170bn.

Below is the key finding from the IEA’s latest methane tracker report.

Methane emissions from the energy sector remained near a record high in 2023. We estimate that the production and use of fossil fuels resulted in close to 120mn tonnes of methane emissions in 2023, while a further 10mn tonnes came from bioenergy – largely stemming from the traditional use of biomass. Emissions have remained around this level since 2019, when they reached a record high. Since fossil fuel supply has continued to expand since then, this indicates that the average methane intensity of production globally has declined marginally during this period.

The latest IEA Global Methane Tracker is based on the most recently available data on methane emissions from the energy sector and incorporates new scientific studies, measurement campaigns and information collected from satellites.

Analysis of this data reveals both signs of progress and some worrying trends. On one hand, more governments and fossil fuel companies have committed to take action on methane. Global efforts to report emissions estimates consistently and transparently are strengthening, and studies suggest emissions are falling in some regions. However, overall emissions remain far too high to meet the world’s climate goals. Large methane emission events detected by satellites also rose by more than 50% in 2023 compared with 2022, with more than 5mn tonnes of methane emissions detected from major fossil fuel leaks around the world – including a major well blowout in Kazakhstan that went on for more than 200 days.

Methane emissions from energy, 2000-2023

​Close to 70% of methane emissions from fossil fuels come from the top 10 emitting countries 

Of the nearly 120mn tonnes of emissions we estimate were tied to fossil fuels in 2023, around 80mn tonnes came from countries that are among the top 10 emitters of methane globally. The United States is the largest emitter of methane from oil and gas operations, closely followed by the Russian Federation (hereafter “Russia”). The People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) is by far the highest emitter in the coal sector. The amount of methane lost in fossil fuel operations globally in 2023 was 170bn cubic metres, more than Qatar’s natural gas production.

The methane emissions intensity of oil and gas production varies widely. The best-performing countries score more than 100 times better than the worst. Norway and the Netherlands have the lowest emissions intensities. Countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, also have relatively low emissions intensities. Turkmenistan and Venezuela have the highest. High emissions intensities are not inevitable; they can be addressed cost-effectively through a combination of high operational standards, policy action and technology deployment. On all these fronts, best practices are well established.


Methane emissions from oil and gas production and methane intensity for selected producers, 2023

Cutting methane emissions from fossil fuels by 75% by 2030 is vital to limit warming to 1.5 °C 

The energy sector accounts for more than one third of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, and cutting emissions from fossil fuel operations has the most potential for major reductions in the near term. We estimate that around 80mn tonnes of annual methane emissions from fossil fuels can be avoided through the deployment of known and existing technologies, often at low – or even negative – cost.

In our Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario – which sees the global energy sector achieving net zero emissions by mid-century, limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 °C – methane emissions from fossil fuel operations fall by around 75% by 2030. By that year, all fossil fuel producers have an emissions intensity similar to the world’s best operators today. Targeted measures to reduce methane emissions are necessary even as fossil fuel use begins to decline; cutting fossil fuel demand alone is not enough to achieve the deep and sustained reductions needed.

Full implementation of COP28 and other pledges would cut fossil fuel methane emissions by 50%.

The COP28 climate summit in Dubai produced a host of new pledges to accelerate action on methane. Importantly, the outcome of the first Global Stocktake called for countries to substantially reduce methane emissions by 2030. Additionally, more than 50 oil and gas companies launched the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter (OGDC) to speed up emissions reductions within the industry, new countries joined the Global Methane Pledge and new finance was mobilised to support the reduction of methane and greenhouse gases (GHGs) other than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Substantial new policies and regulations on methane were also established or announced in 2023, including by the United States and Canada, and the European Union and China published an action plan dedicated to methane emission control. A series of supportive initiatives have been launched to accompany these efforts, such as the Methane Alert and Response System and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s Satellite Monitoring Campaign.

Taken together, we estimate that if all methane policies and pledges made by countries and companies to date are implemented and achieved in full and on time, methane emissions from fossil fuels would decline by around 50% by 2030. However, in most cases these pledges are not yet backed up by detailed plans, policies and regulations. The detailed methane policies and regulations that currently exist would cut emissions from fossil fuel operations by around 20% from 2023 levels by 2030. The upcoming round of updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, which will see countries set climate goals out to 2035, presents a major opportunity for governments to set bolder targets on energy-related methane and lay out plans to achieve them.


Methane abatement potential to 2030 & main sources

Around 40% of today’s methane emissions from fossil fuels could be avoided at no net cost

Methane abatement in the fossil fuel industry is one of the most pragmatic and lowest-cost options to reduce GHG emissions. The technologies and measures to prevent emissions are well known and have already been deployed successfully around the world. Around 40% of the 120mn tonnes of methane emissions from fossil fuels could be avoided at no net cost, based on average energy prices in 2023. This is because the required outlays for abatement measures are less than the market value of the additional methane gas captured and sold or used. The share is higher for oil and natural gas (50%) than for coal (15%).

There are many possible reasons why companies are not deploying these measures even though they pay for themselves. For example, the return on investment for methane abatement projects may be longer than for other investment opportunities. There may also be a lack of awareness regarding the scale of methane emissions and the cost-effectiveness of abatement. Sometimes infrastructure or institutional arrangements are inadequate, making it difficult for companies to receive the income from avoided emissions.

Regardless of the value of captured gas, we estimate that it would be cost-effective to deploy nearly all fossil fuel methane abatement measures if emissions are priced at about $20/tonne CO2‑equivalent. Tapping into this potential will require new regulatory frameworks, financing mechanisms and improved emissions tracking.


Reductions in methane emissions from fossil fuel operations from existing policies and pledges, 2020-2030

Delivering the 75% cut in methane emissions requires $170bn in spending to 2030 

We estimate that around $170bn in spending is needed to deliver the methane abatement measures deployed by the fossil fuel industry in the NZE Scenario. This includes around $100bn of spending in the oil and gas sector and $70bn in the coal industry. Up until 2030, roughly $135bn goes towards capital expenditures, while $35bn is for operational expenditures.

Fossil fuel companies should carry the primary responsibility for financing these abatement measures, given that the amount of spending needed represents less than 5% of the income the industry generated in 2023. Nonetheless, we estimate that about $45bn of spending in low- and middle-income countries requires particular attention, as sources of finance are likely to be more limited. To date, we estimate that external sources of finance targeted at reducing methane in the fossil fuel industry total less than $1bn, although this should catalyse a far greater level of spending.

Marginal abatement cost curve for methane from coal and oil and gas 2030


Spending for methane abatement in coal, oil and gas in the Net Zero Scenario, 2024-2030