Energy industry methane emissions rise close to record in 2023

Emissions of greenhouse gas responsible for a third of global warming ‘unacceptably high’, says energy watchdog.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province
The fossil fuel industry has failed to live up to pledges to reduce methane emissions, the IEA said [Olivia Zhang/AP Photo]

Methane emissions from the energy sector approached record highs last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned.

In a report released on Wednesday, the global watchdog said the fossil fuel industry’s emissions of the potent greenhouse gas, responsible for about 30 percent of global warming, reached more than 120 million metric tonnes in 2023. That put emissions close to the record set in 2019, despite the sector having promised to use freely available technology to reduce their levels.

Despite pledges made by the oil and gas industry to bring down large-scale emission spikes by plugging infrastructure leaks, they jumped by 50 percent last year compared with 2022. One disastrous well blowout in Kazakhstan, recorded by satellites, lasted more than 200 days.

The increase also came despite the availability of technology capable of curbing pollution at virtually no cost, said the Paris-based agency. Some 40 percent of the emissions recorded in 2023 “could have been avoided at no net cost” using tried and tested methods, said IEA energy expert Christophe McGlade.

Oil and gas firms have pledged to slash their methane emissions by 2050, but their commitments have not been backed up by detailed plans. Reduction of methane, second only to carbon dioxide for its contribution to rising temperatures, is essential to meeting international targets on climate change.

A child stands at the yard of his house as a wildfire burns, in the village of Agios Charalampos, near Athens, on July 18, 2023. - Europe braced for new high temperatures on July 18, 2023, under a relentless heatwave and wildfires that have scorched swathes of the Northern Hemisphere, forcing the evacuation of 1,200 children close to a Greek seaside resort. Health authorities have sounded alarms from North America to Europe and Asia, urging people to stay hydrated and shelter from the burning sun, in a stark reminder of the effects of global warming. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)
A child stands in the yard of his house as a wildfire burns, in the village of Agios Charalampos, near Athens, on July 18, 2023 [Aris Messinis/AFP]

“Emissions of methane from fossil fuel operations remain unacceptably high… There is no reason for emissions to remain as high as they are,” said IEA chief energy economist Tim Gould.

He expressed hope that 2024 “could mark a turning point” if countries and fossil fuel firms honour their promises by creating concrete policies to curb pollution.

While some 40 percent of methane is released from natural sources, human activities are responsible for the rest. In the energy sector, methane leaks from energy infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, and from deliberate releases during maintenance.

Two-thirds of the emissions in 2023 were from just 10 countries, including China’s coal industry and the United States’ gas sector, with Russia not far behind.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies