Methane is an extremely potent climate pollutant. In the short term, it’s much more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the most common greenhouse gas (GHG).

Methane has about 83 times more effect on global warming over 20 years than CO2, and about 30 times more effect over a century. Energy production is the third-largest source of methane, behind agriculture and wetlands, with emissions from oil and gas works accounting for 14% of total global methane emissions.

Oil- and gas-related methane emissions come from a variety of sources, including upstream exploration and production, gas gathering, storage and pipelines. Certain pieces of equipment, including pneumatic controllers and valves, tend to be particularly leaky. Incomplete gas flaring and venting — planned releases of gas during well completions or maintenance — also contribute emissions.

Reducing oil and gas production is crucial to meet climate goals

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated in 2021 that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) would require stopping new oil and gas exploration and significantly decreasing production and consumption through 2050, starting this decade.

Rapidly reducing oil and gas production is crucial for lowering both CO2 and methane emissions. Minimizing the methane emissions from oil and gas production is also essential, but this must not allow countries to lock in a prolonged production of fossil fuels.

In 2022, methane (CH4) emissions from oil and gas production totaled 82.3 million tonnes (MtCH4). To achieve a 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathway, these must be slashed to 18 MtCH4 by 2030 through reductions in oil and gas production and other actions. Key international coalitions are now focused on ending routine flaring and venting by 2030 and identifying and fixing methane leaks, all of which could drastically reduce emissions.

Tackling fugitive emissions from existing infrastructure will drive important GHG reductions quickly

For many years, methane emissions from oil and gas were underestimated. With better monitoring technology — including ground-based monitoring, drone, airplane and satellite-based surveys — we now know that "bottom-up" estimates derived from average emissions factors and engineering-based estimates are far too low. There is growing pressure on companies to employ continuous monitoring; implement better leak detection and repair (LDAR); improve monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) practices; and set clear targets to reduce methane emissions. Investors and shareholders are pushing for more progress.

Some independent third parties have begun launching satellites to monitor methane emissions from oil and gas operations. While this is a welcome development, it must be supplemented by the continuous data provided by LDAR systems at individual fields.

Data Insights

Is the world making enough progress toward the most important outcomes?

Systems Change Lab assesses progress made toward targets across 2 outcome indicators. Click a chart to explore the data.

What factors may enable or prevent change?

Systems Change Lab identifies 4 enablers and barriers that may help spur or impede change. Click a chart to explore the data.

Progress toward targets

Systems Change Lab tracks progress made across 2 outcome indicators. outcome indicator. Explore the data and learn about key actions supporting systems change.

Volume of fossil gas flared

The volume of fossil gas flared must be reduced by about 95% to 7 billion cubic meters (bcm) by 2030 to achieve a 1.5 degrees C pathway. This volume increased globally from 104 bcm in 1996 to about 147 bcm in 2022.

Much of the methane emissions from fossil gas are emitted through incomplete flaring (burning off unwanted fossil gas) or venting (directly releasing fossil gas into the atmosphere). Often, companies employ these practices to get rid of so-called “associated gas” when drilling for oil, for a variety of reasons: because it is uneconomic to transport, because the producer does not have the right to sell the gas, or to avoid a pressure build-up that could cause an explosion.

However, flaring contributes both carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane to the atmosphere. Because combustion in the flaring process is incomplete (global combustion efficiency is about 92%), some methane is emitted directly, in high concentrations.

The volume of fossil gas flared globally increased from 104 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 1996 to 147 bcm in 2022. CO2 emissions from gas flaring in 2022 were highest in the Middle East (82 million tonnes, Mt), followed by Africa (53 Mt), Eurasia (49 Mt), North America (31 Mt), Central and South America (26 Mt), Asia (18 Mt) and Europe (2 Mt).

To achieve a 1.5 degrees C pathway, the volume of fossil gas flared must be reduced by about 95% to 7 bcm by 2030. The volume of natural gas flared should peak immediately and begin decreasing significantly to meet the 7 bcm target by 2030.

Methane emissions from oil and gas

The International Energy Agency indicates global methane emissions from oil and gas must be reduced to 17 million tonnes by 2030, requiring these increasing emissions to peak and decrease quickly from 2022 levels.

Methane emissions from oil and gas increased from 66 million tonnes (Mt) in 2000 to 82.3 Mt in 2022 (with a brief drop to 80 Mt in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Major emitters in 2022 included the United States (15 Mt), Russia (14 Mt) and Iran (6 Mt). Norway, one of the top producers of oil and gas, boasted the lowest methane emissions from oil and gas operations at less than half a million tonnes.

To achieve a 1.5 degrees C-aligned future, the International Energy Agency indicates that global methane emissions from oil and gas must be reduced to 17 Mt by 2030. This will require concerted efforts to reduce production and consumption of oil and gas and lower methane intensity in the oil and gas that is produced.

Methane emissions from oil and gas must peak and decrease quickly to hit the 2030 target of 17 Mt.

Enablers and barriers

We also monitor change by tracking a critical set of 4 enablers and barriers enabler or barrier that can help spur or impede change. Explore the data and learn about key actions supporting systems change.

Number of countries in the Zero Routine Flaring Initiative

Eliminating routine flaring and venting by 2030 is necessary for a 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathway; the Zero Routine Flaring Initiative has been endorsed by 35 countries, 3 states, 54 oil companies and 15 international development agencies.

Several industry efforts are underway to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas. One multilateral partnership is the Zero Routine Flaring Initiative (ZRFI), a World Bank-led coalition of governments and oil and gas companies promoting bans on non-emergency flaring and venting by 2030. The number of countries participating in the ZRFI does not account for countries that have flaring or venting restrictions that are less stringent than zero by 2030. The ZRFI was established in 2015, but at present the only data available show that the number of signatory countries grew from 32 in 2022 to 35 in 2023.

Because the literature has established that eliminating non-emergency flaring and venting by 2030 is necessary for a 1.5 degrees C-aligned pathway, it is helpful to understand which countries have implemented this key policy. The ZRFI is currently endorsed by 35 countries as well as the states of California, Colorado and Western Australia, 54 oil companies and 15 international development agencies.

Number of countries committed to the Global Methane Pledge

As of December 2023, 156 countries had endorsed the Global Methane Pledge, through which parties agree to take voluntary actions to collectively reduce global methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

In 2021, the Global Methane Pledge was unveiled at COP26 through a partnership between the United States and the European Union and other parties to the Paris Agreement. Through it, parties agree to take voluntary actions to collectively reduce global methane emissions (including emissions from the energy, waste and agricultural sectors) by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

It is worth noting that this is an average across all methane-emitting systems — in 1.5 degrees C pathways, energy systems must reduce methane emissions by around 60% while other systems like agriculture see reductions of less than 30%.

As of December 2023, 156 countries had endorsed this pledge, including countries that had not submitted an official nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

Under this initiative, more than $328 million has been pledged to drastically reduce methane emissions from three key economic sectors: fossil fuel energy, waste and agriculture.

Number of companies in the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0

The Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0, an effort to create the “gold standard” for methane reporting in the oil and gas industry, launched with 62 oil and gas company members in 2020; as of December 2023, 122 companies were members.

In 2020, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP) 2.0 was launched in an effort to gather high-quality data about methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. The framework requires companies to report all direct (scope 1) emissions from anywhere along the supply chain where companies own and/or operate assets. This includes fugitive emissions and emissions from flaring and venting.

The framework also requires companies to set targets in line with one of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Mineral Methane Initiative sectoral targets: a 45% reduction in methane emissions from 2015 to 2025 and a 75% reduction by 2030.

In lieu of these targets, companies can demonstrate their commitment by adopting the Oil and Gas Climate Initative’s methane intensity target of “well below” 0.2% by 2025. The OGMP 2.0 launched with 62 oil and gas company members in 2020; as of December 2023, 122 companies were members.

Number of countries committing to methane reduction under the Paris Agreement

New analysis shows that as of mid-2022, 86 countries had included methane reduction actions from energy as part of their overall climate reduction strategies. This overall number is not enough to align with a 1.5 degrees C pathway.

As part of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, countries committed to updating their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every five years. In the first round of updates since initial NDCs were submitted, countries are adding more aggressive climate mitigation targets that also take into account non-carbon dioxide gasses such as methane.

New analysis by WRI shows that as of mid-2022, 86 countries had included methane reduction actions from energy as part of their overall climate reduction strategies. This overall number is not enough to align with a 1.5 degrees C pathway.