At COP28, methane matters most to meet 1.5C goal

A view of an oil spill from a well head is pictured at Santa Barbara, in Nembe, Bayelsa, Nigeria, November 25, 2021

A view of an oil spill from a well head is pictured at Santa Barbara, in Nembe, Bayelsa, Nigeria, November 25, 2021. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is key to limiting warming to 1.5C in the near term

Deborah Gordon is senior principal at RMI and senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

This year’s U.N. climate summit (COP28) has been dubbed the oil and gas COP because the United Arab Emirates, its host nation is the third largest producer in OPEC. But now that COP has begun, we know why this meeting matters more than ever: without durable action on oil and gas, the Earth’s temperature will spike, and climate disasters will mount.  

At COP21, when the Paris climate agreement was adopted, there was a single panel on oil and gas. Today, greater emissions transparency and full accounting are needed to quantify the wide-ranging emissions footprints of otherwise equivalent barrels of these fossil fuel resources. We can't throw in the towel at the outset of COP28. It's time to roll up our sleeves to drive down global temperatures now.

Looking back, global leaders have been slow to address today’s most critical concern: methane. At COP28, decision-makers in oil and gas-producing nations in the Middle East, North America, and elsewhere around the world must jump start a global methane agreement by committing to specific actions that immediately cut emissions in the oil and gas sector to near zero and stop wasting gas across the energy value chain. 

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Climate experts refer to methane as a climate super-pollutant because it delivers over 80 times more warming potential than CO2 over its decade-long lifetime. As one of the largest anthropogenic sources of methane emissions, here’s why oil and gas leaders at COP28 must do something to stop methane emissions.

Details, dollars and determination

Even UAE’s COP28 President, Sultan Al-Jaber, who heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), has underscored the need to eliminate methane emissions from oil and gas sources by 2030.  Just recently, banks, industry, and NGOs released reports touting methane curbs in a bid to boost climate investment, setting a precedent for companies to follow their lead to mitigate methane. 

But the plan needs three things: details, dollars, and determination to cut oil and gas methane emissions by 75% or more by 2030. The oil and gas sector has the greatest potential for methane mitigation. Up to 40% of the reductions needed to meet the Global Methane Pledge (adopted at COP26 in Glasgow) can be met by low-cost, available technology to massively cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Reducing methane is the single most important strategy for limiting warming to 1.5°C in the near term.  

International and national oil companies need to sign binding agreements to increase overall transparency, end routine and non-routine flaring, apply rigorous methane measurement, monitoring and verification, openly certify methane leakage below 0.2%, finance and procure data from methane-detecting satellites and sensors, price unabated methane emissions, and expedite market entry for net-zero energy systems.  

Nations and corporations at COP28 can bolster their climate commitments by establishing a global methane fund of $10 billion a year for the next five years. This investment in the security of future generations is precisely what the trillions of dollars amassed in sovereign wealth funds from oil and gas-producing nations should cover. When added to the more than $4 trillion in fossil fuel profits in 2022, this is a relatively small sum to quell the imminent threat of climate tipping. 

As atmospheric methane concentrations increase at unprecedented rates, risks of climate tipping mount. Once tipped, Earth would enter a continuous cycle of increased warming as methane emissions super-heat the planet - and the rise in global temperature will release more and more methane. Without immediate progress on methane, the carbon budget to safely limit global warming is already exhausted, and the COP21 goal is out of reach, with tipping points soon to follow. 

The governments at COP can no longer afford to take the long view. This “now” COP is different, putting oil and gas front and center, and pulling petroleum squarely into this critical climate conversation. Two actions rise to the fore: strictly regulate methane leakage systemwide; and price oil and gas according to their lifecycle climate footprints. Together, these outcomes could rapidly drive down global temperatures in this decisive decade.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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