Iraq mulls tackling its methane problem and reaping major benefits along the way
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Baghdad/Geneva, 30 September 2020 – While Iraq accounts for around three per cent of global oil and gas production, it is responsible for around eight per cent of world methane emissions, according to estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
This wasted gas is estimated to be worth USD 1.5 billion.
Following a high-level virtual seminar co-hosted by the Iraq Ministry of Health and Environment and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Iraq’s Deputy Environment Minister, Dr. Jassim Humadi, announced that the Ministries of Health and Environment and Oil have agreed to establish an inter-ministerial technical task force to better understand the nature and scale of methane emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector.
He added that what Iraq now needs is “to build its capacity in the science of measuring methane and establish a national emissions baseline”. To this end, he called for technical support from UN partners and global initiatives including the Global Methane Alliance, to help Iraq set “nationally appropriate methane reduction targets that can be integrated in Iraq’s Nationally Determined Contribution to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions” under the Paris Agreement.
“Methane is a highly potent climate pollutant that is responsible for 25 per cent of global warming according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It has such a huge climate impact because it can trap 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a twenty year period,” noted Giulia Ferrini, who coordinates the Global Methane Alliance for UNEP’s Energy and Climate Branch.
“We are very keen to have better data about methane and understand how instead of losing massive amounts of methane, we can exploit it to generate much needed electricity for our people and promote use of a new source of cleaner energy in Iraq. This will also help Iraq in implementing its commitments under the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement, and fits very well with our vision to focus on increasing the capture of associated gas and encouraging investment in this important sector in the future,” the Ministry of Oil said in a statement following the seminar.
“The challenge with monitoring methane is that it’s invisible, so specialized equipment and studies are needed to detect and quantify these leaks. UNEP, through its partnership with Norway’s Oil for Development Programme and its international methane initiatives and networks stands ready to support Iraq in gaining a better picture of how much gas it is losing and how to reduce the emissions,” said Marisol Estrella, Disaster Risk Reduction Coordinator at UNEP’s Crisis Management Branch.
The drive to solve Iraq’s methane challenge received a welcome boost with the ratification by the Iraqi Parliament of the Paris Agreement on 22 September.
The good news is that reducing methane emissions is a low-hanging fruit with zero net cost; that is 40 percent of emissions can typically be eliminated with readily available technology whose cost would be balanced by the gains in gas production. And this fruit is even bigger in Iraq’s case as it can eliminate up to 64 percent of emissions at zero-cost according to IEA analysis.
In addition to the climate and economic benefits, reducing methane emissions would also help alleviate Iraq’s chronic air pollution. In oil producing regions such as Basra, methane emissions and particulate pollution from flaring is suspected to worsen respiratory illnesses and contribute to some cancers.