Oil Companies Pledge Methane Reductions at COP28 Amidst Environmental Skepticism


At the COP28 meeting, representatives from fifty oil companies, collectively responsible for nearly half of the world's oil production, have made commitments to significantly reduce methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030. This move, declared by the president of this year's United Nations climate talks, Sultan al-Jaber, aims to address methane's significant contribution to global warming. However, this initiative has been met with skepticism from environmental groups, labeling it as a 'smokescreen.'

The reduction in methane emissions could potentially curtail about one-tenth of a degree Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) from future global warming, according to calculations by a prominent climate scientist. Al-Jaber, also the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., emphasized the importance of industry participation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times, a target set by the COP summit.

Among the fifty oil companies committing to this pledge are major national and multinational entities such as Saudi Aramco, Petrobras from Brazil, Sonangol from Angola, as well as Shell, TotalEnergies, and BP.

Al-Jaber acknowledged the necessity of energy for the world but emphasized the urgency of mitigating emissions on a massive scale and transitioning rapidly to zero-carbon alternatives.

While the initiative has been hailed as a significant step in addressing climate change, critics view it as insufficient and argue that it does not tackle the root cause, calling for a phase-out of oil, gas, and coal. Many environmental groups voiced concerns, stating that the commitments made by oil companies only address symptoms and not the fundamental issue.

Amidst these differing opinions, some environmental advocates like the Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp viewed Saturday's agreement as potentially one of the most impactful announcements from any COP summit. However, others pointed out that while methane is a substantial contributor to global warming, emissions from oil and gas drilling represent only about 23% of worldwide methane emissions, with agriculture and waste being more significant contributors.

The reduction of methane emissions is seen as a crucial step, given methane's potency in trapping heat over a shorter period compared to carbon dioxide. However, critics argue that more aggressive reductions in both carbon dioxide and methane are necessary to limit temperature increases within the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold.

Stricter regulations, such as those recently announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency targeting methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells, indicate a growing shift toward addressing these concerns. Similarly, the European Union has taken steps to curb methane emissions from the energy industry.

Despite these developments, the COP28 announcement did not address the end-user emissions (Scope 3 emissions) resulting from the burning of oil and natural gas. Additionally, there are suggestions for oil and gas companies to do more research to find solutions to Scope 3 emissions.

The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, backed by major oil-producing nations like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, signifies a step forward in addressing emissions from the industry. However, it remains to be seen how these commitments translate into tangible action and whether they align with the broader global efforts to combat climate change.