Could COP28 yield a methane commitment from Turkmenistan? [Gas in Transition]
Since this editorial was published in the latest edition of NGW’s Gas in Transition magazine on November 30, Turkmenistan has announced its decision to join the Global Methane Pledge, committing itself to cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
The growing global attention on methane emissions as a key cause of climate change in recent years certainly needs no explanation. It is far more potent a greenhouse gas (GHG) than CO2, albeit released in far smaller quantities. And the fact that it has a far shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2 means that action taken in the near term can yield results faster.
The hydrocarbon industry is not the greatest source of anthropogenic methane emissions – that is an unfortunate title that the agricultural sector holds. Globally, there are many examples of natural gas companies and natural gas-producing nations that have made significant progress in tackling methane emissions over the years, and in some cases, over decades. But where there are frontrunners there are also laggards, whose reasons for being behind the curve are varied.
Over the past two years, there has been a lot of scrutiny in the media about the levels of methane being emitted from the oil and gas industry in Turkmenistan. Many of those reports are based on information and data collected by satellite operator Kayrros. For instance, in an article entitled “Mind-boggling methane emissions from Turkmenistan revealed,” published in May this year, The Guardian reported that Turkmenistan main two oil and gas basins were the cause of more global heating from methane emissions in 2022 than resulted from the entire CO2 emissions of the UK in that year. The largest number of so-called super-emitter events took place in Turkmenistan that year – over 800. In second and third place were the US and Russia, which had around 600 and 350 respectively, even though they produce roughly 12 times and eight times more gas than Turkmenistan respectively.
Turkmenistan has clear incentives for doing more to address the problem. Some of that methane that escapes into the atmosphere could be put to use. Even though it currently contends with export constraints, more of this gas could be used in power generation, or in petrochemical and fertiliser production, for example. The country has also for decades been seeking international political and financing support to build large-scale gas export pipelines. Tackling its methane emissions might improve the prospects for these projects, though they do face substantial other obstacles to realisation.
What to expect
On the eve of COP28, it will be interesting to see whether Turkmenistan announces some form of commitment on this issue. This could involve joining the Global Methane Pledge. Five-hundred countries have already signed up to the pledge, to reduce their emissions by 30% by 2030 versus the level emitted in 2020.
The US appears to be pressing Turkmenistan to make more progress on its methane emissions, with potential support to do so. In May, the two countries announced a joint statement expressing “their intentions to cooperate on deploying leak detection and repair solutions as well as develop a methane reduction investment plan in 2023 to control methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.” If that plan is unveiled this year, then it will surely be at COP28.
“To advance this work, the US and Turkmenistan will form a working group on methane mitigation and will endeavour to feature methane mitigation outcomes by COP28,” the joint statement read.
As host of the conference, the UAE, whose national oil company ADNOC is in preliminary talks to invest in the giant Galkynysh field, would also have something to gain from getting Turkmenistan to join the pledge – it would be a boon for its prestige in presiding over the climate talks.
Turkmenistan’s oil and gas producers might also join a sector-specific initiative, involving some commitment on addressing Scope 1 and 2 emissions. But there would naturally be less political support for this than for an intergovernmental agreement.
What is needed
The tricky issue is whether Turkmenistan is sufficiently able to detect and quantity its methane emissions – which would be essential for any commitment it makes to be meaningful. This means having sufficiently advanced technology and equipment, both on the ground but also with the use of satellites – such as those deployed by Quebec-based GHGSat. It also means having experienced workers to ensure best practices. Likewise, Turkmenistan would need all these things to go about reducing its methane emissions.
As such, Turkmenistan would need significant international support – financial, technical and advisory – especially as it is starting at such a low base in terms of addressing the problem. International organisations such as the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and various regional development banks.