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The pandemic and the containment measures taken by governments have not only had negative effects. The environment, for example, benefited greatly from this period.
The Covid-19 pandemic significantly slowed down many aspects of our lives in 2020, leading to a noticeable decrease in emissions of methane, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The organization first mentioned a 10% drop in emissions from oil and gas companies due to lower production in the face of reduced demand – we drove significantly less -. That being said, these operations would still have released some 77 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere in 2020.
Methane emissions are down in 2021
Agriculture is the largest source of human methane emissions (around a quarter) followed by the energy sector. Leaks in the natural gas value chain cause around 60% of industry emissions, according to the IEA, and oil production is responsible for the rest.
After carbon dioxide, methane emissions are the second largest contributor to global warming. Although there is less of it in the atmosphere and it has a much shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, it is more efficient in absorbing energy. Assuming that one tonne of methane is 30 times carbon dioxide, according to the IEA, then the total global emissions of oil and gas companies have reached the entire energy carbon footprint of the entire country. European Union last year.
But we still have to do better
The IEA had warned that these emissions would increase if fossil fuel production were to resume. She called on companies to step up efforts to fix leaks in pipelines and production plants, saying many can be done at no additional cost once the retained methane is sold. The report suggests that, as part of the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, the oil and gas sector must reduce their emissions by more than 70% by 2030.
The organization also urged governments to tackle the issue head-on during climate talks at the United Nations in November. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency – an independent agency of the United States government – decided to backtrack on regulations on these emissions.
Although methane leaks can be quite difficult to locate, recent satellites are able to identify larger ones. The IEA even included satellite data in its methane tracker for the very first time this year. Data from analytics firm Kayrros indicates that emissions fell in Iraq, Turkmenistan and the United States in 2020 but increased in Russia, Algeria and Kazakhstan. The organization also specifies that satellites are not the only method for locating large leaks insofar as they do not currently scrutinize operations carried out offshore or in equatorial regions or at the poles.