Science

Methane emissions are far higher than countries claim, report suggests

Emissions of planet-warming methane from oil, gas and coal production are 70 per cent higher than the official figure provided by governments worldwide, the International Energy Agency has found.

Emissions last year were 70 per cent above figures provided by governments, says International Energy Agency

A pumpjack is seen at an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., on Oct. 29, 2016. The International Energy Agency said its annual Global Methane Tracker report shows methane emissions from the energy sector grew by almost five per cent last year. Methane leaks during the production of coal, oil and natural gas. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The International Energy Agency said Wednesday that emissions of planet-warming methane from oil, gas and coal production are significantly higher than governments claim. The powerful greenhouse gas leaks during the production of all three kinds of fossil fuels.

The Paris-based agency said its analysis shows emissions were 70 per cent higher last year than the official figure provided by governments worldwide. If all leaks were plugged, the methane captured would be enough to supply all of Europe's power sector, it said.

The IEA says its estimates are regularly updated using the best available data on fossil fuel operations, country- and production-specific emissions intensities, as well as measurement campaigns and large emissions events detected by satellites. That is why they differ from the figures shared by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which relies on numbers reported by countries. 

"Many official greenhouse gas submissions to the UNFCCC have not been updated for years, and, even for those that have, many of these inventories are not yet accurate enough to provide a clear picture of emissions," the IEA says. 

The IEA findings underline "the urgent need for enhanced monitoring efforts and stronger policy action to drive down emissions of the potent greenhouse gas," the agency said.

Why methane plays a big role in climate change

Experts say methane is responsible for almost a third of the temperature increase that has occurred since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The gas remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than carbon dioxide, however.

Bringing down methane emissions is seen as a crucial and quick way to limit further warming over the coming decades.

The IEA said its annual Global Methane Tracker report shows emissions from the energy sector grew by almost five per cent last year. It said the volume of methane leaked amounted to about 180 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

"That is equivalent to all the gas used in Europe's power sector and more than enough to ease today's market tightness," the IEA said.

WATCH | The first step in reducing methane emissions is measuring them better

The first step in reducing methane emissions are better ways of measuring them, researchers say

1 year ago
Duration 1:57
The federal government has made big investments in reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations, but researchers say you can’t reduce what you can’t measure, and there are better ways to measure methane.

The agency's executive director, Fatih Birol, called for greater transparency on the size and location of methane emissions.

New satellites have helped experts pinpoint the sources of large emissions, though regions along the equator, the Far North and offshore are still poorly covered.

The countries with the highest emissions are China, Russia, the United States, Iran and India, the IEA said.

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