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Rapid methane cuts could prevent nearly a million premature deaths

The health and climate benefits of cutting methane from fossil fuels are potentially enormous. These benefits are detailed in a new assessment released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Premature deaths 

The Imperative of Cutting Methane from Fossil Fuels report states that immediate, targeted methane abatement in the fossil fuel sector could prevent nearly one million premature deaths due to ozone exposure and 90 million tons of crop losses due to ozone and climate changes. 

Lost labor

The researchers add that about 85 billion hours of lost labor due to heat exposure could be avoided by 2050, providing roughly 260 billion dollars in direct economic benefits.

Global warming 

The experts emphasize that rapid cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuels would also help limit global warming in the short term. Methane cuts could avoid up to 0.1 °C in global temperature rise by 2050 – a greater impact than taking all the cars and trucks and trucks off the road – according to the report. 

Climate goals

The assessment builds on findings from the IEA’s recently updated pathway to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. The experts say that while a drop in fossil fuel demand would cut methane emissions, these reductions by themselves would not occur fast enough to meet the world’s climate goals.

“Reductions in fossil fuel use alone do not achieve deep enough cuts in methane emissions to reach levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 °C with no or low overshoot,” the experts state in the report. 

“Additional, targeted actions to tackle methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use are essential to limit the risk of crossing irreversible climate tipping points.”

Methane emissions 

Methane emissions are responsible for approximately 30% of global warming experienced since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. 

This greenhouse gas is predominantly released through fossil fuel operations, which represent the second-largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions. 

The most recent estimates suggest that annual global methane emissions are around 580 million tons.

Reducing emissions

The report emphasizes that it is possible to mitigate a significant portion of these emissions using current technology.

“More than 75% of methane emissions from oil and gas operations and half of emissions from coal today can be abated with existing technology, often at low cost.” 

“The oil and gas sector has the greatest share of ready-to-implement and cost-effective technical opportunities to reduce methane emissions. Cuts in methane emissions from fossil fuel operations will likely need to provide half of the reduction in total methane emissions from human activities needed to 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 °C.”

Escalating crisis

To effectively curb the escalating climate crisis, the report suggests that more focused and deliberate actions are crucial, especially in tackling methane emissions originating from the production and consumption of fossil fuels. 

These targeted strategies are not only needed for avoiding irreversible climate tipping points, but are also urgently needed to protect public health.

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