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Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire have taken major steps to combat methane emissions, a greenhouse gas over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, by joining the Global Methane Alliance at the recent high-level meeting held by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan. Spearheaded by the CCAC’s Mineral Methane Initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme, the Alliance gathers international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), financing institutions, and industry to support countries committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
“As a full-fledged member of the Global Methane Alliance, we are fully committed to our ambitious actions to significantly reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 2030, as reflected in our Nationally Determined Contributions, and call on all other state and non-state actors to join the Alliance towards achieving its laudable objectives,” said Dr. Muhammad Mahmood Abubakar, Nigeria’s Minister of the Environment, recently at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, COP 25.
Methane is a powerful short-lived climate pollutant that lasts for just 12 years but is incredibly effective at trapping the sun’s heat, making it responsible for at least a quarter of global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that that methane must be reduced at least 37 percent by 2030 if there’s any hope of keeping warming levels under 2°C.
The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of the pollutant as it is emitted throughout the supply chain—including during production, gathering lines, processing facilities, long-distance pipelines, storage, and local distribution.
As the world transitions to low carbon fuels, reducing methane in the sector now is critical as it is one of the most rapid and cost-effective ways to act against climate change.
In many places, the projections of the impact of methane leakage is getting worse: A study published last year found that the amount of methane leaking from the United States’ oil and natural gas supply chain was 60 percent higher than originally estimated. As energy demands grow globally—Africa, for example, has over 7 percent of global gas reserves and the continent’s energy demand is expected to increase 60 percent by 2030—the urgency of reductions will continue to grow.
“Unfortunately, oil and gas operations are often the source of environmental degradation, through the release of many pollutants into the natural environment,” said the Minister of Environment of Côte d’Ivoire, Joseph Seka Seka, at a recent high-level meeting held by the CCAC in Abidjan. “These pollutants, notably methane, are adverse for ambient air quality and contribute strongly to climate change.”
The environment, however, isn’t the only winner when it comes to methane reductions.
The global oil and gas sector is estimated to have lost $30 billion in revenue in 2012, or about 3 percent of global natural gas production, from methane leaks. If companies reduced pipeline leaks and recovered the gas that escapes they could actually profit off those losses.
It’s part of why major international oil companies have spoken out in favour of methane regulation and why one of the Alliance’s guiding principles is to advocate for sound policy and regulations.
“Reducing methane emissions to near zero continues to be a top priority for OGCI,” said Claudio Descalzi, CEO of ENI at the CCAC High Level Assembly in September about the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a coalition of 13 of the largest oil and gas companies in the world who are responsible for 30 percent of global gas production. “To fully guarantee the benefits of the use of gas, this growth has to go hand in hand with reducing its impact on global warming.”
Luckily, reductions are well within reach. The International Energy Agency estimates the sector could reduce its emissions globally by 75 percent. The agency also estimates that up to two-thirds of those reductions could be accomplished without any financial losses.
For countries joining the Alliance, depending on their oil and gas industry and their overall methane emissions, this means committing to absolute methane reduction targets of at least 45 percent by 2025 and 60-75 percent by 2030—or to a near zero methane intensity target.
To achieve these goals, the CCAC has already developed technical guidance documents to help companies address methane. It also offers a platform for dialogue amongst countries and companies working to achieve methane reduction targets. While there is already enough information to act, the CCAC is also supporting improved data collection through methane science studies to help both countries’ and companies’ make informed decisions. Since 2017, the CCAC through the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) and Clean Air Task Force (CATF) has also initiated peer to peer regulatory support for Argentina, Colombia, and Nigeria to help these governments address methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
UNEP and the CCAC’s work to reduce methane are continuing to expand around the world. UNEP is hosting two more regional meetings in March and April of 2020 in West Asia and Central Asia and are also planning follow-up workshops in countries that have expressed interest in joining the Global Methane Alliance. The Alliance is also helping OGCI determine how they can expand and enhance their commitment and offer more direct support to countries and National Oil Companies NOCs that have joined as well.
For Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, and future countries that join, UNEP is supporting them to baseline current emissions levels, build internal capacity, and develop sound methane regulations to support targets. Member organizations including CATF, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and OGCI are also offering their support.
To dramatically reduce methane emissions in the short term, industry and government must work together.
“We cannot do this alone. Involvement of government is essential to send the appropriate regulatory and economic signals to all concerned players,” said Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of Total, at CCAC’s High Level Assembly. “Strong and long-term policy support and regulations are critical to enable the oil and gas industry to invest in technologies and solutions.”
If there wasn’t already enough reason to act, reducing methane has benefits beyond global warming. The toxic gas is also a building block of what is called ground-level ozone, an air pollutant that kills an estimated one million people every year in addition to 110 million tonnes of crops. Nixing methane emissions doesn’t just have profound implications for Earth’s long-term habitability, it matters for the health of hundreds of thousands around the world right now.
“The multiple benefits that can be achieved should motivate all governments, industry, and investors to act now. We have ten years to achieve significant reductions in methane in order to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius,” said Helena Molin Valdes, Head of the UNEP hosted CCAC Secretariat. “With both industry and government on board we can and must make these reductions as a minimum first step on the way to decarbonizing our economies and moving toward a climate safe future.”
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