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The Middle East is tackling the methane challenge

Methane is a major contributor to global emissions and a significant driver of climate change

Methane strorage tanks at Ibn Sina refinery in Jubail. Saudi Arabia has pledged to ban routine methane flaring, as has the UAE Alamy via Reuters
Methane strorage tanks at Ibn Sina refinery in Jubail. Saudi Arabia has pledged to ban routine methane flaring, as has the UAE

In the battle against climate change, CO2 often takes centre stage as the primary greenhouse gas of concern. 

But another potent gas demands our attention: methane, a colourless and odourless gas produced from both natural processes and human activities.

The sources of methane emissions include venting along with fugitive emissions (that is, leaks) from gas infrastructure, from unlit flares or incomplete flare combustion, from abandoned wells or “super remitters” resulting from well blowouts or poorly functioning midstream equipment. 

The largest source of methane emissions is what are known anthropogenic emissions – human activity. Of late, cow belching has also been in the spotlight.

Despite its lower concentration in the atmosphere compared with CO2, methane is a major contributor to global emissions and a significant driver of climate change – 28 times more potent than CO2 at trapping the heat in the atmosphere, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. 

Methane has a relatively short atmospheric life of 12 years, but its impact on climate change is far-reaching and multifaceted.

Methane abatement refers to the suite of measures designed to reduce or eliminate methane emissions, such as improved livestock management, infrastructure upgrades and methane capture and use at landfills, wastewater treatment plants and fossil fuel facilities.

Incentives to reduce methane emissions are increasingly strong, and numerous measures are in place to accelerate the process.

These include regulatory requirements to report methane emissions, penalties associated with emissions, ability to detect emissions at a relatively low cost, or availability of emissions data in the public domain. 

This is coupled with available technology and operational best practices, and the ability to monetise the gas that is sent to markets instead of released into the atmosphere.

Methane initiatives in the Middle East

Methane emissions pose an acute challenge in the Middle East and North Africa as the region has a significant role in fossil fuel extraction and production. 

The region has a huge methane reduction potential, a collective know-how in the energy sector, and a strong commitment by governments and the private sector alike. 

The Global Methane Pledge, launched at Cop26, is signed by countries representing 45 percent of global methane emissions and aims to mobilise countries to reduce methane emissions collectively by 30  percent compared with 2020 levels by 2030. 

Last year’s Cop28 marked a breakthrough. More than 50 oil and gas companies signing a new Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, a pledge to achieve “near-zero methane emissions” on their upstream operations by 2030.

The Middle East Green Initiative is an effort led by Saudi Arabia to boost regional collaboration for meeting climate targets.

Countries such as Egypt have announced their intention to develop domestic methane regulations in their oil and gas sector by the end of 2024, while Iraq has announced the development of a national methane emissions inventory and a legislative framework for the oil and gas sector.

The Mena region is characterised by strong corporate commitment and the ability to tackle the methane challenge through collaborative action

GCC countries have announced ambitious commitments to net zero – the UAE and Oman by 2050, and Saudi Arabia by 2060. 

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken steps to cut emissions by banning the routine flaring of methane and other gases and the UAE is financially supporting the Global Flaring and Methane Reduction Partnership launched by the World Bank.  

The Mena region is also characterised by strong corporate commitment and ability to tackle the methane challenge through collaborative action, recently reaffirmed through a joint report issued at Mena Climate Week in October 2023. 

Many Mena companies are members of the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, an initiative to measure, report, and reduce methane emissions representing  more than 80 companies with a significant share in the world’s oil and gas production, transmission and distribution. 

Companies such as Adnoc announced ambitious methane targets, among them the Upstream Methane Intensity target of 0.15 percent by 2025, the lowest in the Middle East.

Mena companies are also signatories of Aiming For Zero, an initiative by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a CEO-led organisation bringing together 12 of the world’s largest energy companies, to encourage the oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions. 

Are the pledges enough?

Although initiatives such as The Global Methane Pledge present a significant step forward for global collaboration, it is critical to implement the initiatives on the ground. 

Given the trans-boundary nature of methane emissions and their impact on global climate dynamics, addressing this issue requires active collaboration among countries in the Middle East and beyond.

In particular, partnerships and collaborations between local regulators, national oil companies, international oil companies and service companies are essential for reducing emissions on a global stage. 

International partnerships and agreements provide frameworks for multilateral cooperation on methane mitigation efforts.

Implementation, however, is another issue altogether.

Florent Rousset is strategy leader for production solutions at Baker Hughes and Aida Araissi is CEO of Bilateral Chamber 

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