Phasing out fossil fuels is critical to staying under globally agreed temperature rise limits, but the U.S. Dept of Energy is only focusing on reducing “emissions intensity”

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced an international working group to develop a framework for the measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MMRV) of methane, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gas emissions from gas. They claim this effort will reduce global emissions. But the U.S. Department of Energy-led framework will not require producers to make or keep pledges to reduce their overall production of oil and gas and, as a result, will be weaponized by the fossil fuel industry to justify increased production.

As currently envisioned, this voluntary framework would rely on unreliable, easily manipulated, opaque technologies that have not shown they can be trusted to adequately measure the emissions from oil and gas operations. As countries move toward setting standards for methane emissions on imported oil and gas – as the European Union reached a deal to do on Wednesday – it is all the more important that oil and gas companies’ claims can be rigorously, independently and transparently verified.  

The U.S. Department of Energy acknowledges that the frameworks will support gas sellers to “compete on the basis of a lower greenhouse gas profile.” They write:

“There is currently no broad agreement for how companies can credibly account for and verify claims regarding greenhouse emissions associated with their natural gas in the marketplace. This limits buyers’ ability to require producers to reduce emissions and sellers’ ability to compete on the basis of a lower greenhouse gas profile.”

At the same time, the United Arab Emirates-held Presidency of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) is working on a “Global Decarbonization Alliance” that would see oil and gas producers commit to eliminate operational methane emissions while refusing to commit to reductions in the vast majority (80-90%) of their emissions, which result when the fossil fuels they produce and sell are burned (called ‘scope 3’ emissions).

The U.S. and other Planet Wreckers persist in operating as though emissions reductions are sufficient to meet climate targets while approving new projects that continue to expand overall production, on track to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Reducing oil and gas operational emissions without sharp reductions in overall fossil fuel production will fail to achieve the cuts in methane emissions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As a report from the International Energy Agency and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition released October 11 made clear, policies focused on reducing oil and gas emissions – without reducing production overall – are dangerous distractions and ineffective climate policy.

According to the IEA’s projections, either current policies or existing pledges, which both permit substantial use of fossil fuels for decades to come, will result in warming well above 1.5°C, even with best-case scenario methane emissions reductions. The NZE Scenario, which calls for an approximately 80% reduction in gas production by 2050, is the only IEA pathway that avoids significant overshoot of temperature targets.

As we head into COP28, we encourage all countries – particularly the United States and other major producers – to revise their climate commitments to include metrics to guarantee a decline in fossil fuel production in line with or more ambitious than what the IEA shows is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

We cannot afford to throw resources and financing behind infrastructure based on the presumption fossil fuels will remain a significant source of energy.

Oil Change International research shows that over half of the fossil fuels in currently active fields and mines must stay in the ground to limit global temperature rise to internationally agreed upon limits. Oil & gas companies knowingly block, delay, and undermine efforts to address their impact on the planet, and continually use their profits to invest in new fossil fuel extraction over renewables,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International. “Reducing methane emissions is important. But what companies need to understand is that what really matters is phasing out fossil fuels. In other words, they need to clean up their mess on their way out the door.” 

“It’s important to require companies to clean up operations and reduce methane pollution as much and as quickly as possible in order to protect the health and safety of communities. Still, we can’t lose sight of the larger reality: Cutting emissions simply isn’t enough,” said Gabrielle Levy, Associate Director of Methane Communications at Climate Nexus. “We must eliminate most oil and gas production in the next 25 years. Instead, the U.S. and other countries are trying to kick open the door for even more greenwashed, dirty fossil fuels.” 

“Focusing on methane is a smokescreen the oil and gas industry is using to conceal that they’re actively working against global climate action,” said Romain Ioualalen, Global Policy Campaign Manager at Oil Change International. “The Global Decarbonization Alliance, a new voluntary initiative spearheaded by the United Arab Emirates COP28 presidency, is full of misleading promises that ignore the vast majority of the climate pollution caused by fossil fuel companies. The COP28 presidency must not be under the illusion that vague and voluntary company commitments to address upstream methane emissions, or a framework to measure methane emissions like that proposed by the United States, are substitutes for phasing out all fossil fuels. While cutting methane is an important step, the science says we must stop new exploration and extraction projects immediately. That is what COP28 must deliver.”

“The Department of Energy’s MMRV approach risks falsely branding gas as green or clean and prolonging its life. That is exactly what the IEA and the UN are warning us about”, said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director at Earthworks. Any attempt to use reporting, verification or measurement to greenwash fossil fuels has the potential to put us over the edge of a climate catastrophe. We want to see efforts that guarantee a clean up and phase out. That’s what science tells us we must do.”