The ongoing expansion of coal mines in Queensland means fugitive emissions from fossil fuels will become the biggest source of greenhouse gas produced in the Sunshine State by 2030, according to a new report.
Based on the existing pipeline of planned coal projects, the joint Queensland Conservation Council and Lock the Gate Alliance report (available here) finds the combined fugitive methane emissions from coal and gas will be responsible for at least 26.6 million tonnes of CO2-e each year, of which 23.7 mt is coal mine methane.
However, as a growing body of satellite-obtained data shows, these figures are likely to significantly underestimate the true amount of fugitive methane escaping into the atmosphere from coal mines. The report also does not take into account planned coal seam gas expansions, and the fugitive emissions they would produce.
The report finds there are 18 planned coal mines that, if built, will be operational by 2030. In 2021, Queensland had the highest number of new coal mines planned for any state or province in the world.
The report uses the historical reported emissions, often published by coal companies themselves, to estimate emissions from underground coal mines, and the same emissions calculator used by the Australian Government for open cut coal mines to estimate the total.
Queensland Conservation Council Energy Strategist Clare Silcock said, “Our research shows that if these planned coal mines are built, fugitive emissions would grow by 30% by 2030. This completely wipes out any reductions achieved by the Safeguard Mechanism between now and 2030.
“To truly take action on climate change, the Queensland Palaszczuk Government cannot approve the new coal mines and expansions in the pipeline. Our research shows building new coal mines is completely counterproductive to any other emissions reduction policy.
”The Palaszczuk Government should also work with the Climate Change Authority to develop a methane monitoring and reduction programme for existing mines, while working to permanently close the most polluting coal mines.
“Queensland is particularly vulnerable to catastrophic climate change. Increasingly severe droughts, bushfires, floods, and cyclones fueled by anthropogenic global heating are already devastating lives. The Great Barrier Reef cannot recover in a world where extreme marine heatwaves are the norm.
“The Palaszczuk Government cannot continue approving new and expanding coal mines if it wishes to meet its own climate targets, and Queensland is to remain a safe, liveable place.”
Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Ellen Roberts said, “This report dispels the myth that greenhouse gas emissions from Queensland’s coal is someone else's problem, just because the vast majority is exported. The fugitive and direct emissions from coal mining count directly in Queensland’s carbon accounting and sooner or later the State Government will have to face the music.
“The Queensland Palaszczuk Government cannot keep approving new coal mines if it truly wishes to meet its own climate targets. Whitehaven’s Winchester South mine, which the Queensland government is now considering for approval, would add more than 14 million tonnes of CO2e to Qld’s domestic emissions over the life of the mine.
“This report shows that every other industry is taking steps to reduce emissions, especially the electricity sector while coal mining, if left unregulated, will remain the laggard industry of the 21st century.”