COP28 Promise: Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter

Published Dec. 29, 2023

Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover the promises made at this month’s global climate change conference, COP28. ‘Words words words,’ Hamlet said. And that’s what most of the COP28 media coverage focused on. Specifically, it was five words: ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels.’

But while language in global agreements matters (why else would OPEC’s chief warn his members to ‘proactively reject any text’ that targets fossil fuels?), we’re more interested in the concrete actions and accountability mechanisms that will come out of it. This is Issue #1 of COP28 Promises, a series that will break down the most significant commitments. First up are oil and gas companies. Let’s dive in.

The promise

Fifty oil and gas companies signed a voluntary agreement called the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter.

The charter promises:

1. Near-Zero upstream methane emissions by 2030 (I.e. Dumping methane into the atmosphere via deliberate releases (aka venting) or innumerable leaks in equipment).

2. Zero routine flaring by 2030  (I.e. Burning excess gas instead of capturing it to be processed and sold).

The charter also pledges Net Zero Operations by 2050, but this briefing focuses on the 2030 promises.

Who promised it?

The list of oil and gas companies that signed the charter is at the end of this page. 

Together, they manage more than 40% of global oil production.

Noteable points: 

  • 30 of the signatories are National Oil Companies (i.e. state-owned), which have been slower than publicly listed International Oil Companies to bow to climate pressure
  • Woodside Energy is the only Australian company on the list

Why it matters

1. Methane is the second biggest greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. 

In 2021, methane made up 19% of the world's annual emissions, measured as Carbon Dioxide equivalent (CO2-e).*

About 60% of all methane emissions come from human activity.*

About 23% of them come from energy. (The sector is second to agriculture by a slim margin at 24%).

About 14% of them come from the oil and gas industry.

Upshot: When we’re talking about methane emissions from oil and gas companies, that's roughly 2.7% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. 

2. Methane maths shows reductions can deliver quick wins

There are two things to know about methane:*

1. Methane cooks the atmosphere much faster than Carbon Dioxide.

As MIT experts explain, if one tonne of methane was released into the atmosphere today, it would immediately trap at least 100x more heat than one tonne of CO2.

2. Methane decays faster and leaves the atmosphere sooner.

It lasts about a decade on average, whereas COcan last for centuries. Over 100 years, one tonne of methane would trap about 28x the heat of CO2.

Upshot: Methane does most of its heat-trapping damage quickly then fades away. Reducing it can lead to quick wins in the race to stablise the planet's temperature.

3. Cutting methane emissions from the energy sector is low-hanging fruit

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates 70% of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations could be reduced with existing technology.

The oil and gas sector could reduce them by 75% through leak detection and repair programmes and upgrading leaky equipment. 

How they'll be accountable

A key clause in the oil and gas charter is mandatory verification, with companies promising to have their emissions reviewed by an independent third party.

But the most powerful factor will be new monitoring technologies that force transparency.

Satellites and sensors are already making this invisible and odourless gas more visible.

But soon methane emitters will face unprecedented scrutiny.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a not-for-profit advocacy group, has built its own satellite, MethaneSAT. It is specifically designed to pinpoint methane emissions anywhere on earth. It is scheduled to launch in January and its data will be publicly available.

For anyone who believes in the power of data, especially real data as opposed to self-reported estimates, 2024 should be an exciting year.

List of signatories

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