Mar 13, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Methane emissions keep climbing in "worrying" trend

Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Axios Visuals

Fresh data shows the persistence of fossil fuel methane emissions — but with it offers hope of potential changes.

Why it matters: It's a powerful planet-warming gas, and the energy industry is the second-largest source of human-caused methane (after agriculture).

Driving the news: Energy-related emissions inched up in 2023 and remain around 2019's record levels, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday morning.

  • There is a small silver lining. While fossil fuel use has expanded, methane intensity — that is, amount per unit of production — has dropped a bit.

The big picture: Roughly 70% of methane from fossil fuel production comes from the top 10 emitting nations, IEA finds.

  • The U.S. is the largest source from oil and gas operations, while China is tops from coal.

Friction point: The agency sees both "signs of progress and some worrying trends."

  • There's no shortage of pledges, including new ones at last year's UN climate summit, and emissions are falling in some areas.
  • If all national and corporate targets are fully met, methane from fossil fuels would drop 50% by 2030.

Yes, but: At least for now, the landscape of national and corporate pledges is strewn with mirages.

  • "[I]n most cases, these pledges are not yet backed up by detailed plans, policies and regulations," IEA finds.

The intrigue: Steep cuts are quite feasible — in theory.

  • IEA estimates two-thirds of methane from fossil fuels can be avoided with known and existing tech, "often at low — or even negative — cost."

The bottom line: Despite signs of progress, the heavy lifting remains.

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