Iraq aims to leverage international support to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent by 2030, including by reducing methane emissions from its oil and gas, agriculture, and waste sectors. Iraq demonstrated its commitment for action by signing the Global Methane Pledge, a global effort to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030.
“Methane is one of the most important issues around the world and we want to make sure we’re contributing to reducing emissions,” said Mustafa Mahmoud, the Manager of the National Climate Change Center. “Making sure that we tackle the climate change issue with the international community and ensuring that pollution is tackled at the national level is very important for us.”
According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Methane Assessment, reducing methane, a potent climate forcer and major contributor to air pollution, globally by 45 per cent would avert almost 0.3°C of global warming by 2045, vital to achieving the Paris Climate Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5˚C.
Gas flaring is one of the most important opportunities to reduce our emissions.
In 2020, Iraq developed a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to help build the country’s resilience to climate change, and did work under the CCAC’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership. It also established the Permanent National Committee on Climate Change and establishing the National Climate Change Center.
Iraq struggles with long standing instability, conflict, poverty, and an economy heavily dependent on the oil and gas sector. The energy sector (made up of oil, gas, electricity, and transport) is responsible for 75 per cent of Iraq’s total emissions, making it a vital sector for reductions.
Oil and gas will be the most important sector for Iraq to tackle, both because of its significance to Iraq’s economy and because it can achieve high methane reductions at a low cost.
“Iraq’s economy is not wide ranging and we depend heavily on fossil fuels. The energy sector has a huge amount of our greenhouse gas emissions, in large part because of oil extraction and gas flaring,” said Mahmoud. “Gas flaring is one of the most important opportunities to reduce our emissions.”
Iraq plans to prioritize reducing gas flaring, which occurs when fossil gas from oil production is burned as an unwanted by-product during the extraction process. Flaring emits large amounts of methane and black carbon. To do this, Iraq plans to improve its detection of methane leaks by conducting regular leak detection programs at oil and gas extraction sites and pipes and also to capture and utilize the gas that would otherwise be flared.
Iraq also plans to reduce methane from agriculture. This includes implementing rice cultivation strategies like Alternate wetting and drying (AWD), which can reduce methane emissions by 30 to 70 per cent and reduce the water needed by 30 per cent without reducing yields. The country plans to further reduce agricultural emissions by using better feed for livestock to reduce emissions from enteric fermentation, a digestive process in cattle that emits large amounts of methane.
“A large percentage of Iraq’s population are farmers, and emissions from livestock are significant,” said Sahar Hussein Jasim of Iraq’s Climate Change Center. “Reducing methane emissions in the livestock sector could also help increase food security.”
The co-benefits of methane mitigation will include diversifying our economy, achieving development goals, and reducing health problems. “The most important co-benefit of methane mitigation for Iraq, however, will be producing electricity.”
In the waste sector, Iraq plans to pass the Solid Waste Management Act, which will encourage recycling, energy conversion from waste, reduce waste burning, and develop an integrated waste management system. The country also plans to capture methane from landfills to generate electricity.
“The co-benefits of methane mitigation will include diversifying our economy, achieving development goals, and reducing health problems,” said Mahmoud. “The most important co-benefit of methane mitigation for Iraq, however, will be producing electricity. Iraq has a huge demand for daily electricity that it can’t meet so figuring out how to convert methane into electricity is very important for our citizens and will be a good investment for the country.”
Ali Jaber, the Manager of Air Monitoring adds that “using methane to generate power and electricity will directly contribute to reducing emissions and also indirectly help Iraq reduce its dependency on private diesel generators.”
These co-benefits helped Iraq build consensus to include methane mitigation in its NDCs. Meetings were held with the Prime Minister, ministers, committee members, and high-level representatives from the public and private sector to discuss the benefits and necessity of methane mitigation.
The decision to focus on methane mitigation came from cross-ministry collaboration between the Ministry of Oil, the Ministry of Electricity, and the Ministry of Industry, all of whom lent significant support because of the obvious health and economic diversification co-benefits to Iraq.
“There is a relationship between national pollution levels and the health of citizens. They’re suffering from the huge amount of pollution produced by gas flaring,” said Mahmoud. “And methane isn’t just emitted from the oil and gas sector, it’s also emitted from the waste sector and the agricultural sector. Our citizens are suffering from so many diseases caused by these high levels of pollutants.”
Methane is a primary ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, which is a dangerous air pollutant. According to the CCAC’s Global Methane Assessment, reducing it by 45 per cent around the world by 2045 would prevent 260,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits.
Mahmoud and his colleagues say that Iraq faces significant obstacles but that international assistance from institutions like the CCAC can help them meet the challenge.
“We need support from experts, we need financial support to help map the stakeholders, we need assistance with technology to identify where methane is leaking,” said Mahmoud. “It will be very difficult to make sure that these challenges are not obstacles to reaching our goals”
Iraq plans to prioritize monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) because it is a key part of building a transparent system. To do so, a major priority for Iraq will be developing a national greenhouse gas inventory and developing their in-country technical capacity to accurately measure methane emissions in real time, including identifying exactly where the biggest methane leaks are located. Iraq will need further support developing technical capacity to measure emissions and their reductions accurately using IPPC measurements and identifying the most cost-effective mitigation strategies. Iraq will also need support developing the legal and legislative infrastructure to meet these mitigation goals.
“Iraq needs assistance so that it can fully mobilize to ensure we achieve mitigation measures in every sector,” said Mahmoud. “How can we enhance local knowledge and build capacity with the support of the international community to ensure that we’re making effective and green investments? How do I make sure that we’re eradicating poverty and that we’re offering green jobs to our citizens? How do we make sure this is contributing to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals? These are the priorities represented in our NDCs that we need to achieve.”