With Record Heat and Soaring Energy Prices, Here’s the Fastest Way to Slow Global Warming – RealClearEnergy
If ever there was a moment for urgent action to protect the climate, this is it.
As families and businesses struggle with soaring energy prices, temperature records are being shattered around the world. Much of the U.S. is sweltering under a stifling heat dome, Europe just saw all-time heat records in one of the earliest heatwaves on record, East Africa is on the brink of catastrophic climate-induced famine, Bangladesh and India are experiencing unprecedented floods. The list goes on.
These are the consequences of global warming that scientists warned us about. With extreme weather seemingly everywhere all at once, it might feel as though it’s too late to act. But in fact, governments around the world are beginning to understand that we still have a chance – indeed, an obligation – to make a real difference in the temperature trajectory, not just 50 years from now but today.
That opportunity is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Methane from oil and gas operations, agriculture, coal mining, and other industries is responsible for more than a quarter of current warming. That potent effect is a problem, but it’s also a solution waiting to happen.
By cutting methane pollution from human-made sources as quickly as possible, scientists estimate we could slow the worldwide rate of warming by as much as 30% – an enormous difference when governments are scrambling to find a path that keeps warming below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius aspired to in the Paris climate accord.
The good news is that world leaders have recognized both the urgency and the opportunity and have begun taking steps to capitalize on it. Last fall’s Glasgow climate talks were pivotal. Days beforehand, more than 100 countries signed the U.S.- and European-led Global Methane Pledge, agreeing to reduce their methane emissions 30% by 2030. Since then, 20 more countries have signed on – with signatories now representing two-thirds of the global economy.
At the same time, the world is struggling with soaring energy prices as sanctions on Russian oil and gas constrain global energy markets. Many fear that this could slow efforts to reduce emissions and combat climate change, so it was encouraging when President Biden emphasized at a White House event this month that “climate security and energy security go hand in hand.”
He’s right – and this is doubly true with methane, the stuff that natural gas is made of. To help head off severe problems this winter, Biden has promised more gas exports to Europe. Yet U.S. oil and gas operators throw away around 16 million metric tons of methane every year through leaks, intentional releases or simply burning it off in an egregiously wasteful practice called flaring.
That makes for a win-win opportunity. Analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund shows that capturing the methane that American oil and gas operators are currently dumping into the atmosphere could supply fully half the 50 billion cubic meters the U.S. has promised to Europe. But to make this opportunity a reality, the Biden administration will need to up its game on its proposed EPA methane rules for the oil and gas industry.
Investors managing $9 trillion worth of assets and numerous oil and gas companies have voiced support for strong EPA rules, and bipartisan majorities in Congress reaffirmed the need for EPA to address rogue methane emissions in a vote last summer.
As currently proposed, EPA’s rules would only save about 8 bcm of wasted gas. By employing cost-effective best practices already being used by industry leaders and already required in some states – including a prohibition on non-safety related flaring and regular inspections at small wells with leak-prone equipment – the rules could reduce methane emissions and waste by about 25-30 bcm per year.
It’s a similar story globally. Last week the International Energy Agency released an analysis showing that by reducing flaring by 90 percent and reducing methane leaks and venting by 70 percent, 210 bcm of gas could made available globally – vastly more than the roughly 150 bcm of gas Europe currently imports from Russia. The IEA also concludes that at today’s energy prices, virtually all of those reductions would create a net return for energy companies.
Reducing methane emissions is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest thing we can do to immediately slow the pace of climate change. And, as it turns out, it is also one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to stabilize energy markets in the face of geopolitical turmoil. It’s a win-win opportunity that the world cannot afford to miss.
Matt Watson is VP of the Energy Transition at Environmental Defense Fund.