Methane

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas (GHG), 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and responsible for a quarter of the warming felt today. Reducing methane emissions is indispensable in the fight to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement, while such action will also have important benefits for natural ecosystems, agricultural yields and human health.

The problem

The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled since pre-industrial times and is projected to continue to increase through at least 2040. Current methane concentrations are too high to meet even the 2°C scenarios laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

More than half of global methane emissions are human caused, predominantly from the energy (oil, gas and coal), agriculture (livestock) and waste sectors (landfill and wastewater). In the energy sector, methane is released into the atmosphere through routine venting and flaring and leakage across the oil and gas supply chain while abandoned and unused oil, gas and coal sites often emit methane unabated. Fossil gas (often known by the misnomer ‘natural gas’) used in petrochemicals to produce plastic is an important source of methane.

Adding to the urgency, vast deposits of methane stored under layers of permafrost are at increasing risk of being released as the planet warms and the permafrost thaws. This climate ‘tipping point’ would be catastrophic with the potential to release hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO2e) into the atmosphere causing dramatic warming. Fast action on short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane and fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases), greatly increases our chances of flattening the climate curve and avoiding these climate tipping points.

  • 86x

    Methane is 86 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide

  • 40-45%

    Methane emissions need to be reduced by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C

  • +50%

    of methane emissions come from human activity

Moving forward

The IPCC states that methane emissions need to be reduced by 40-45% by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C. Measures to achieve this are available and cost-effective, with the potential to avoid 180 Mt CO2e emissions a year by 2030. Methane emissions from the energy sector alone could be reduced by 65% by preventing leakage and recovering gas in oil, gas and coal production.

Methane emissions are grossly under-reported but satellite data is beginning to reveal the scale and severity of methane leakage and emissions. This has led to increasing international scrutiny and attention to the issue, spurring action on methane emissions globally.

The EU imports over 80% of its fossil gas, 90% of its crude oil and 40% of its coal from non-EU countries, essentially outsourcing its methane emissions to non-EU countries. EIA is working on legislation at the EU level to reduce methane emissions, not just from oil and gas produced in the EU but also from all oil and gas consumed in the EU, including imports.

The EU Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions aims to keep the EU in line with its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and European Green Deal (EGD) objectives. Upcoming EU legislation should introduce a strong monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) framework to improve understanding of the scale of methane emissions that the EU is responsible for, while also banning routine venting and flaring (BRVF) and requiring leak detection and repair (LDAR) across the supply chain.