Methane leaks: The opportunity Paris climate negotiators can't afford to miss

Drew Nelson

When countries meet in Paris for the United Nations climate talks later this year, their representatives will come armed with the best data, research and ideas on how to reach a climate agreement and avert catastrophic climate change.

But a new report from Rhodium Group, commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund, shows that countries have so far been leaving a huge opportunity on the table: methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

Cutting methane can have a dramatic impact

The report shows that the global oil and natural gas industry is leaking a huge amount of climate-harming methane every year. When released into the atmosphere, this methane has the same climate impact as does 40 percent of carbon dioxide from the world’s coal combustion.

Cutting oil and gas methane pollution can have an immediate and dramatic climate benefit. If we cut such pollution in half globally, the effect over the next 20 years would be equivalent to eliminating all carbon dioxide from coal burning in India and the European Union.

As a 2014 report from ICF International found, these cuts are both achievable and cost-effective.

$30 billion in untapped revenue

In addition to the climate benefits of slashing methane pollution from the oil and gas sector, methane leaks waste an estimated 3.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If sold to consumers, it would generate about $30 billion dollars in new revenue for the sector.

In fact, if this leaked gas came from a producing country, that nation would be the 7th largest gas producer in the world - on par with Norway. If captured, this leaked gas would boost supplies and increase energy security worldwide .

A growing problem

We now know that oil and gas methane pollution is an issue we cannot ignore. Unless countries and companies alike take bold steps to curtail them, these global emissions will increase by nearly 25 percent by 2030.

Because of methane’s significant climate impact, this increase in methane emissions would have an additional climate impact equal to all of Poland’s annual greenhouse gas emissions today.

Countries can set achievable methane goals

Today, awareness of the methane issue is growing - and more people are taking notice of its impact on short-term warming, and of the fact that methane emissions can be reduced in a cost-effective way. 

The Unites States recently announced an oil and gas methane reduction goal. Mexico has included methane pollution in its emissions reductions commitments given to the U.N. ahead of the Paris talks. And several governments, seven companies (BG, ENI, Pemex, PTT, Statoil, Southwestern and Total) and EDF teamed up to launch the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership.

Reducing methane pollution is not only a significant tool to address climate change; it’s also critical for ensuring that natural gas plays a credible role in the planet’s transition to a lower carbon energy system. 

With such a big opportunity within easy grasp, all countries and companies should put reducing oil and natural gas methane pollution on their to-do list for the Paris climate talks this year.

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