Slight increase in global LNG trade in 2020

Global LNG trade continued to grow in 2020 albeit at a slower pace than the previous year. Meanwhile, orders for LNG-powered vessels have increased significantly.

LNG global trade [1] 


Significant reductions in economic activity levels related to the COVID-19 pandemic have strongly affected LNG demand. Nevertheless, it was one of the few commodities to experience growth in 2020. According to the International Gas Union (IGU), global LNG trade increased by 0.39 % from 354.73 million tonnes (MT) in 2019 to 356.1 MT in 2020 (+1.4 MT). This compares to a 13% (+40.9 MT) increase in the previous year.  


LNG exports [1] 


The growth in 2020 was driven primarily by increased exports from the US (+11 MT) and Australia (+2.4 MT). Actually, Australia overtook Qatar as the world’s largest LNG exporter, with 77.8MT in 2020 versus 75.4 MT in 2019. Exports declined in 14 markets, totalling a decrease in exports of 12.7 MT compared to 2019. The most significant decline was seen in Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria and Norway, which collectively reduced exports by 10.1 MT compared to 2019. 


LNG imports [1] 


Consistent with 2018 and 2019, Asia Pacific and Asia again imported the largest volumes in 2020, together accounting for over 70% of global LNG imports. European net imports declined by 4.3 MT in 2020, a direct result of extended lockdowns, lower activity levels, as well as the increased share of renewables in the energy mix. Myanmar joined the ranks of LNG importers in 2020, as did Croatia in January of 2021. 


Top 10 LNG exporters and importers by market in million tonnes (MT) in 2020


Top 10 Exporters 


Top 10 Importers 




77.8 MT


74.43 MT 



77.1 MT 


68.91 MT 



44.8 MT 

South Korea

40.81 MT 



29.6 MT


26.63 MT 



23.9 MT

Chinese Taipei

17.76 MT 



20.6 MT


15.37 MT 



15.0 MT


13.43 MT 



10.6 MT 


13.06 MT


Trinidad and Tobago 

10.1 MT 


10.72 MT 



9.8 MT


9.07 MT


LNG Liquefaction plants [1] 


Global liquefaction capacity continued to grow in 2020. 20.0 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of liquefaction capacity was brought online, bringing global liquefaction capacity  to 452.9 MTPA. The liquefaction projects that came online in 2020 were all located in the United States: Freeport LNG T2-T3 (10.2 MTPA), Cameron LNG T2-T3 (8.0 MTPA) and Elba Island T4-T10 (1.75 MTPA).  

Several projects were delayed to 2021 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, 2020 registered one of the lowest levels of sanctioned liquefaction capacity since 2008, with only one liquefaction project approved during the year: Energía Costa Azul LNG T1 (3.25 MTPA), located in Baja California, Mexico.  


Regasification terminals [1]


In 2020, global regasification capacity increased by +19.0 MTPA, reaching 850.1 MTPA. Four new regasification terminals entered commercial operation in Brazil, India and Puerto Rico, with the greatest addition of 5.6 MTPA from a new floating terminal in Brazil. Four expansion projects at existing terminals in China and Chinese Taipei were successfully completed in 2020. 

As of February 2021, 39 markets are equipped with LNG import terminals. In the near future, many new LNG importers are expected to contribute significantly to the growth of regasification capacity. Ghana, El Salvador, Cyprus and Nicaragua are all at an advanced stage of construction of their first LNG import terminals, scheduled to come online within the next two years. 


LNG carriers [1] 


The global LNG fleet consisted of 572 active LNG vessels at the end of 2020 (+7% compared to the end of 2019). 35 new vessels were added to the global fleet, two of which were floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs).  


LNG-fuelled ships [2, 3] 


According to industry reports, there has been a significant growth in LNG-fuelled vessel orders. In 2020, there were 173 LNG-fuelled vessels in operation. [2] In 2021, LNG-fuelled vessel orders are approaching 30% of Gross Tonnage on order, representing a substantial part of shipping’s overall capacity when these vessels are delivered. For instance, from January 2020 to July 2021, orders for LNG-fuelled liners have increased five-fold while orders for tankers and bulkers have increased seven-fold and two-fold respectively. [3] 


According to an industry white paper, the use of LNG in the maritime sector can reduce GHG emissions by up to 21% compared with current oil-based fuels. [2]  However, there is a risk of fugitive methane emissions due to slips from the unburned methane from engines. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes strongly to global warming. Therefore, methane emissions reduces the environmental benefits of using LNG as a marine fuel. In response to both commercial and regulatory pressures, engine manufacturers are investing in R&D to reduce methane slips. [4]  Furthermore, the use of bioLNG as a fuel can reduce emissions by up to about 92% compared with fossil LNG in the combustion cycle. BioLNG is produced by liquefaction of biomethane, which comes from renewable resources in the agriculture and waste sector. BioLNG can be used as a drop-in fuel in existing LNG engines and be handled in existing LNG infrastructure. According to the industry's white paper, by combining 20% bioLNG with traditional LNG, this would reduce CO2 emissions from shipping by up to 34%. [2]