50 oil companies pledge to reach near-zero methane emissions by 2030

2 December 2023, 12:54

Oil refinery
COP28 Climate Summit. Picture: PA

Environmental groups called the Cop28 pledge a ‘smokescreen to hide the reality’.

Fifty oil companies representing nearly half of global production have pledged to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030, the president of the United Nations climate talks said.

The announcement by Sultan al-Jaber, president of the Cop28 summit and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, came as he and others have insisted his background would allow him to bring oil companies to the negotiating table.

Mr al-Jaber has maintained that having the industry’s backing is crucial to drastically slashing the world’s greenhouse emissions by nearly half in seven years to limit global warming to 1.5C compared with pre-industrial times.

Sultan al-Jaber
Cop28 president Sultan al-Jaber (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

The pledge included major national oil companies such as Saudi Aramco, Brazil’s Petrobras and Sonangol, from Angola, and multinationals like Shell, TotalEnergies and BP.

“The world does not work without energy,” said Mr al-Jaber. “Yet the world will break down if we do not fix energies we use today, mitigate their emissions at a gigaton scale, and rapidly transition to zero carbon alternatives.”

Methane can be released at several points along the operation of an oil and gas company, from fracking to when natural gas is produced, transported or stored. Over a shorter period, it is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for climate change.

For months leading up to Cop28, there has been talk that one of the biggest outcomes could be on methane. Not only do methane leaks – along with flaring, which is burning of excess methane – and venting of the gas all contribute to climate change, but these problems can largely solved with current technologies and changes to operations.

Oil and gas companies could have taken such measures years ago but largely have not, instead focusing on expanding production than focusing on the by-product.

In that way, the methane deal represented a potentially significant contribution to fighting climate change that largely maintained the status quo for the oil and gas industry. Environmental groups were quick to criticise it.

The pledge is a “smokescreen to hide the reality that we need to phase out oil, gas and coal”, said a letter signed by more than 300 civil society groups.

Marcelo Mena, chief executive of Global Methane Hub, rejected the notion that having near-zero methane emission commitments was a way to delay a phase-out of fossil fuels.

“We wouldn’t let oil companies leak into the ocean until phase-out, so why would we let them leak out methane to supercharge climate change?” said Mr Mena, a former environment minister in Chile.

He said self-reporting did not go far enough to push oil and gas companies to make changes. Instead, he said putting a price on pollution, or companies finding themselves shut out of markets that require high standards with leaks, would force change.

High regulations are beginning to happen. Earlier this year, European Union negotiators reached a deal to reduce methane emissions from the energy industry across the 27-member bloc.

The agreement bans routine venting and flaring, and mandates strict reporting. By 2027, it will expand those norms to oil and gas exporters outside the bloc.

Saturday’s announcement did not address the oil and natural gas being burned off by end users, whether motorists in cars or plants powering cities. That burning off creates the greenhouse gases fuelling climate change.

The Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter is backed by the United Arab Emirates and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, two Opec heavyweights.

Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources, located close to the surface of its desert expanse, makes it one of the world’s least expensive places to produce crude. Both Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC and Saudi Aramco, the world’s third-most-valuable company, have signed on to the pledge.

Separately, organisers said 110 countries have signed a pledge to triple the world’s installed renewable energy capacity by 2030, something pledged in September by leaders of the so-called G20. Their countries emit 80% of planet-warming gases.

By Press Association

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