To Meet Global Methane Goals, Improve Gas Data

Rapid methane reductions are critical to limit global warming in the near term, and more than 150 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge—a collective agreement to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. National policies and significant funding have been announced to support this ambitious initiative, yet there is a lag in credible data to inform and demonstrate progress.

The fossil fuel industry, which contributes 15–22 percent of the global methane budget, is expected to make rapid reductions. Under the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario, 75 percent of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations must be eliminated between 2020 and 2030. Global policy approaches to realize these reductions vary. For example, the United States, now the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG), recently finalized sweeping direct regulation across domestic oil and gas facilities and is now implementing a congressionally mandated methane emissions fee.

Conversely, the European Union imports 90 percent of its natural gas, and policymakers want to leverage the bloc’s purchasing power by compelling its gas suppliers to quantify and reduce their methane emissions. In November, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union reached a provisional agreement on methane legislation that will include new data requirements on oil, natural gas, and coal imports.

Brussels has outlined several stages to come on gas imports. Between now and 2026, EU gas importers will require their suppliers to detail their methane emissions monitoring and reporting, as well as leak detection and repair efforts. This information will contribute to a methane transparency database and “methane performance profiles” of supplier countries and potentially companies. By January 2027, gas suppliers must adhere to the same methane measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) standards as domestic producers, including emissions disclosures. By 2030, the European Union plans to implement a (yet to be determined) “maximum methane intensity value” for natural gas. It is possible that gas suppliers that fail to meet this standard will be subject to penalties, and there is an implicit threat that their longer-term access to the European Union market could be threatened if they fail to meet this import standard.

The availability of robust, measurement-informed emissions information across global supply chains is critical to the success of any target-based methane policy. Yet very few countries can provide robust data on emissions intensity across natural gas value chains. Even gas exporters seldom have comprehensive data to provide emission intensity estimates across natural gas supply chains.

European Union policymakers want to elevate the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP 2.0) as the solution to this problem. The OGMP 2.0 is a voluntary comprehensive, measurement-based international oil and gas methane emissions reporting framework administered by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Its pragmatic theory of change is that equipping asset managers with high quality data will spur credible emissions cuts. Member companies, which represent more than 40 percent of global oil and gas production, agree to annual corporate-wide reporting of methane emissions from all operated and non-operated assets with increasing granularity and accuracy.

OGMP 2.0 has its advantages. It creates a systematic process for evaluating emissions across an entire corporate portfolio and the resulting credible data can inform efficient allocation of capital and operational changes to cut methane. Developing a “community of practice” on methane reductions also helps companies accelerate adoption of best practices and measurement technologies through knowledge sharing with peers. But OGMP 2.0 was designed as an investment standard, not as a regulatory compliance vehicle. It provides decision data built for equity markets, not commodity markets.

OGMP 2.0 also was not designed to track and verify emissions across natural gas supply chains, and relying on it to provide a holistic solution is risky for three reasons. First, it provides no shipment-level data. Though companies are required to report on all assets, the reporting framework allows confidentiality for all but the highest aggregation of data at the company level. No one outside the small UNEP OGMP 2.0 team can access asset-level data necessary to derive a methane intensity assessment for LNG cargoes or discrete pipeline volumes. This is the case even if OGMP 2.0 members are involved in all links of the chain between production and delivery. The program will only shine a light on whether companies that operate or have a financial stake in assets along certain supply chains are “gold standard” level OGMP 2.0 members and specify their company-wide methane emissions at an average reporting level. OGMP 2.0 is not well suited to providing environmental attributes for individual purchasing or import decisions.

Second, the OGMP 2.0 global dataset and the companion International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO) database are still under development. Companies have running room of three and five years, respectively, to achieve best-in-class Level 4 or 5 designations for their material operated and non-operated assets. Data at the heart of the IMEO ambition are critical but have not yet been assembled or demonstrated.

Finally, even if a regulatory agency simply demanded otherwise confidential data directly from the companies, those data are not independently verified. They are evaluated by UN staff at a desktop level for adherence to the reporting framework. Gold Standard labels are awarded as soon as the first reporting year, if companies submit an implementation plan that credibly conforms to key principles and continues to demonstrate year-over-year progress.

It is commendable that the European Union wants to reduce methane emissions associated with its gas imports. But rather than grabbing OGMP 2.0 off the shelf, Brussels institutions should work with importing and exporting countries to continue progress and create a next generation reporting framework that captures emissions across global gas supply chains, with the following critical elements:

  1. Measurement-informed emissions data at the shipment and point-of-sale level. To assemble such a supply chain intensity, asset level inventories must be disclosed, not aggregated at the company or regional level.
  2. Regional or national measurement, reporting, and verification that is effective, practicable, and independently verifiable. The Colorado Methane Intensity Rule is an example of a systematic approach to developing inventories in a region, where the aggregate is independently verified through measurement.
  3. Transparent data quality indicators, such as quantitative aggregate uncertainty estimates of supply chain emissions intensity.

Unlocking global differentiated gas markets can act as a force multiplier for emissions reductions. However, none of this will happen without credible and verified emissions data across global supply chains.

Erin Tullos is a senior research fellow in the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources at the University of Texas at Austin and former senior adviser to the OGMP 2.0. Ben Cahill is a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Erin Tullos

Senior Research Fellow, Center for Energy and Environmental Resources, University of Texas at Austin
Ben Cahill
Senior Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program