The world’s coal mines emit 52.3 million tonnes of methane per year, according to a new report by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), which is greater than annual emissions from oil (39 million tonnes) or gas (45 million tonnes). A slate of new coal mine projects currently under development would further emit 11.3 million tonnes of methane per year if the projects proceed as planned, and would effectively lock in new emissions equivalent to the coal-based CO2 emissions of the United States.
Global Energy Monitor’s analysis is the first assessment to estimate coal mine methane emissions worldwide at the asset level, using its newly enhanced Global Coal Mine Tracker in combination with the Model for Calculating Coal Mine Methane (MC2M). Key findings include:
The world’s operating coal mines emit 52.3 million tonnes of methane per year, more than either oil (39 million tonnes) or gas (45 million tonnes). While mining receives less scrutiny in climate governance, mining emissions translate to CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions of 1,560 – 4,320 million tonnes (Mt) per year when averaged over a 100-year and 20-year timeframe, respectively. 4,320 Mt CO2e20 is comparable to the climate impact of the CO2 emissions of all coal plants in China.
Proposed coal mine projects could further emit 11.2 million tonnes of methane per year, translating to 338 – 936 Mt of CO2e100 and CO2e20, respectively, and could be equivalent to the coal-based CO2 emissions of the United States. As of 2022, 30% of these projects are under construction, suggesting new emissions remain a concern for the near future.
Shanxi, China is the primary source of the world’s coal mine methane emissions. The province emits roughly the same amount of coal mine methane (13.1 Mt) as the rest of the world combined (13.8 Mt).
In the gassiest coal mines, up to 50% of the operation’s greenhouse gas profile is composed of methane, meaning that some mines have a similar climate impact as burning the coal itself.
The reduction of coal mine methane emissions requires a highly targeted approach, since some mines emit 67 times more than mines of similar size, so which mines close, and when, will heavily influence methane emissions in the future.
Coal mine methane emissions must fall 11% each year until 2030 to remain within reach of the IEA’s roadmap for Net Zero 2030.
Outright cancellation of new mine projects is the only way to guarantee zero emissions from new sources in line with the IEA roadmap for net zero emissions.
“The coal age may be ending but methane emissions from existing and abandoned mines may pose just as big a threat to the climate, currently, as oil or gas emissions,” said Ryan Driskell Tate, a Research Analyst for GEM and author of the report. “Our study shows that these mine emissions are in many cases being underestimated by governments as they set net zero goals.”
While GEM’s emissions estimates are derived from operating mines, the report also notes that coal mines continue to release large amounts of methane gas even after they have closed, meaning a phase down in coal power will not resolve the problem on its own and coal mine methane requires careful scrutiny in climate governance.
Read the report here.
Ryan Driskell Tate, [email protected], +1 (763) 221-3313### Global Energy Monitor (GEM) develops and shares information on fossil fuel projects in support of the worldwide movement for clean energy. Current projects include the Global Oil and Gas Extraction Tracker, Global Gas Infrastructure Tracker, Global Gas Plant Tracker, Europe Gas Tracker, Inside Gas newsletter, and GEM.wiki.