A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) on global methane emissions helps clarify why Canada is having such a difficult time meeting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets.
The IEA is an independent governmental and non-governmental organization making global efforts to assist in reaching international climate goals while ensuring that the social and economic impacts of clean energy transitions are at the heart of policy‑making and energy security.
According to IEA’s February 2023 report, global methane emissions remained stubbornly high in 2022 even as soaring energy prices made actions to reduce them cheaper than ever. Indeed, global methane trackers show that the oil and gas sector could slash emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, “using only a fraction of its bumper income from the energy crisis.”
The IEA reports that “the global energy industry was responsible for 135 million tonnes of methane released into the atmosphere in 2022, only slightly below the record highs seen in 2019. Today, the energy sector accounts for around 40% of total methane emissions attributable to human activity, second only to agriculture. Methane is responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.”
The IEA research has determined that “methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be reduced by 75% with existing technologies, highlighting a lack of industry action on an issue that is often very cheap to address. Less than 3% of the income accrued by oil and gas companies worldwide last year would be required to make the USD 100 billion investment in technologies needed to achieve this reduction.” While the IEA does not undertake this analysis it seems likely that Canada’s oil, gas, and coal companies are waiting for government grants to help reduce methane emissions — rather than, as the IEA suggests, using windfall profits to achieve the same objective.
The key strategies for methane emissions reduction from the oil and gas sector include elimination of non-emergency flaring and venting of so-called waste gas. The IEA estimates that three-quarters of the 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of methane that is currently lost to the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations could be retained and brought to market using tried and tested policies and technologies. This amount is more than the European Union’s total annual gas imports from Russia prior to the invasion of Ukraine.
In 2002 more than 500 super‑emitting methane events were detected in oil and gas operations and a further 100 were seen at coal mines. The IEA has developed a toolkit to guide actions by policymakers and companies seeking to reduce coal mine methane emissions.
The IEA Methane Tracker estimates that Canadian sources emit approximately 1.3% of global methane emissions, approximately 2.7 times our share of global population but only slightly more than our share of global GDP. Of that 1.3%, 56% is from the energy sector, about 26% from agriculture, and about 20% from waste management. Given the very high global warming potential of methane (an estimated GWP of 27‑30 times that of carbon dioxide over a 100 year period) the IEA’s appeal for more action to reduce energy industry methane emissions needs to be amplified across Canada.
Looking to learn more? The complete IEA report and the Global Methane Tracker are available here.
Colin Isaacs is a chemist with practical experience in administration, municipal council, the Ontario Legislature, a major environmental group, and, for the past three decades, as an adviser to business and government. He is one of the pioneers in promoting the concept of sustainable development for business in Canada and has written extensively on the topic in the popular press and for environment and business platforms.