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UNEP: In face of climate crisis, Iraq takes on methane pollution


The flaring gas and smoke that bellow into the sky from Iraq’s southern oil fields are visible from miles away.

Not only is the flaring unsightly but it is an environmental hazard, releasing black carbon, which is linked to air pollution, respiratory disease, and emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The International Energy Agency estimated that in 2019 Iraq contributed 9 per cent of all global methane emissions originating from the oil and gas sector. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that over half of all methane emissions come from human-linked activity. Some 35 per cent of human-linked methane is from fossil fuels, 40 per cent from agriculture and 20 per cent from waste, according to the Global Methane Assessment.

Produced by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and UNEP, the assessment found that by cutting human-made methane emissions by 45 per cent this decade, or 180 million tonnes a year, nearly 0.3°C of global warming would be averted by 2045. This could help limit the global temperature rise to 1.5˚C and put the planet on track to achieve the Paris Agreement targets.

“Reducing methane is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce global warming,” said Giulia Ferrini, who manages the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, a multi-stakeholder initiative launched by UNEP and CCAC. “There are very simple, cost-effective ways for the oil and gas industry to contribute to its reduction,” she added.

According to the Global Methane Assessment, 80 per cent of the oil and gas industry, and 98 per cent of the coal industry’s measures to cut methane could be implemented at negative or low cost.

Reducing methane is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce global warming.

Giulia Ferrini, Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0
Ambitious goals

In September 2020, the Iraqi parliament ratified the Paris Agreement. In December 2020 UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme helped the Government of Iraq finalize its Nationally Determined Contributions. Those include specific actions to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, which were coordinated by a newly established inter-ministerial national task force on methane emissions.

In collaboration with the Government of Norway, UNEP supports the Iraqi government with capacity building and technical assistance to mitigate methane from the oil and gas sector. In November 2021, UNEP launched a training series for members of Iraq’s inter-ministerial methane task force, aimed at developing technical knowledge and capacity to support methane mitigation from the oil and gas sector. At the time, Iraq’s Deputy Minister of Environment spoke of the need to enhance national capacity, and to review the technical and legal details which would have helped present a clear statement from Iraq to access the Methane Pledge.

It is not just in the oil and gas sector where Iraq is working to reduce methane emissions. In the agricultural and waste sectors, the country is aiming to slash green gas emissions by 15 per cent by 2030.

‘One of the best ways to slow climate change’

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere over 20 years. Methane is also short-lived with an atmospheric lifetime of only a decade, meaning that reducing emissions can quickly deliver significant climate and development benefits.

“Methane is responsible for at least a third of today’s global warming,” said Drew Shindell, Chair of the CCAC Scientific Advisory Panel. “But its comparatively short atmospheric lifespan means that it offers one of the best ways to slow climate change and avert the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

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Methane not only contributes to global warming, but to the formation of tropospheric ozone, which is also a powerful greenhouse gas and air pollutant linked to over 1 million premature deaths a year.

Reducing methane was central to discussions at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland where the United States and the European Union launched The Global Methane Pledge. Signed by over 100 countries, including Iraq, the pledge is a collective commitment to cut global human-caused methane emissions by 30 per cent below 2020 levels by 2030.

At the G20 Leaders’ Summit in 2021, UNEP launched the International Methane Emissions Observatory, which uses data to catalyze emission reductions and monitor commitments from governments and companies. The observatory collects this data from a variety of sources, including peer-reviewed studies, satellite observations, national inventories, and measurement-based reports from corporate members of the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0.

Meanwhile, the UNEP-convened Climate and Clean Air Coalition, as part of its mandate to coordinate with state and non-state partners on short-lived climate pollutants, is supporting countries with methane profiles and roadmap processes. It also connects countries with methane action and planning resources, offers technical expertise and peer-to-peer learning through its sectoral hubs in key methane-emitting sectors, and will convene countries at the annual GMP Ministerial.

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