Methane Emissions From Coal Mines May be Double Official Estimates

Global methane emissions from coal mines may be twice as high as reported by governments, according to an analysis by global energy think tank Ember.

The report ‘In The Dark’ compares estimates submitted by governments to the UNFCCC with estimates from three independent studies that used various techniques to measure emissions.

The government estimates place global emissions of coal mine methane at 30.5 million tonnes, but estimates from independent studies range between 38-67 million tonnes per year.

“Methane is accelerating climate change this decade and yet we have no idea of the scale of the issue,” said Dr Sabina Assan, methane analyst at Ember. “The lowest estimates put the climate impact on a par with India, at the top end more than the United States. In reality, we have no idea how big the problem is.”

Methane is a fast-acting greenhouse gas and traps 82.5 times more heat than carbon dioxide over 20 years, accelerating short-term global heating. Coal mines release as much methane as the oil or gas sectors, but are often overlooked despite there being cost-effective solutions to tackle emissions. Due to the potency of methane in the atmosphere, the climate impact of methane emitted by coal mines is significant.

If Coal Mine Methane Were a Country It Would be the Third-Largest Emitter

Based on official government data, the methane released by coal mines is equivalent to more than the total CO2 emissions of India and adds 17% to the climate impact of burning coal. However, independent studies suggest that these emissions could be even greater. At the top end, the climate impact of methane emitted by coal mines may be greater than the total CO2 emissions of the United States, so if it were a country it would be the second largest emitter worldwide.

The analysis finds that there are major gaps in how governments measure. 97% of emissions come from governments that use standard emissions factors for whole regions rather than directly measuring the methane emitted by mines. Independent studies reveal that 22 countries, including South Africa and Germany, could be emitting double the emissions they currently report.

The report recommends that governments require all coal mines to directly measure and report methane, with independent satellite verification. It calls for support for low-income countries in implementing this. Coal mine methane emissions must fall by 75% by 2030 to be on track for 1.5C, according to the IEA’s Net Zero analysis.

“It is shocking that the vast majority of mines are allowed to operate without measuring what they emit. Closing the information gap between estimated and emitted emissions is the first step to cutting methane emissions, which is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change in the short term,” added Dr Assan.