Massive underreporting and a lack of action to mitigate direct coal mine methane emissions are putting Australia’s climate goals in jeopardy, according to a new international analysis (available here).
The report, by international climate think tank Ember and commissioned by Lock the Gate Alliance, shows reducing direct coal mine emissions is crucial early climate action for the newly-elected Albanese Government while it puts in place more ambitious climate targets.
Among the report's findings is that methane leaking from Australia’s coal mines causes almost double the climate impact every year of all Australia’s cars.
The report also identifies a list of super-emitting mines that should be a target for urgent action - it finds the 15 most polluting coal mines account for 50% of the country’s reported emissions from mining, while producing just 10% of Australia’s coal.
As well, it shows that one of the main reasons for Australia’s chronic underreporting of coal mine methane is a result of many companies using what’s called “standardised emissions estimates”, rather than actual measurements.
The report also finds:
Australia is the world’s 6th largest coal mine methane emitter and on track to become the 3rd worst. Despite this, the government has not signed the Global Methane Pledge and has continued to approve new and expanding coal mines at a rate only behind China and Russia.
Methane’s short-term climate impact is 82.5 times that of carbon dioxide, making the methane released by coal mines equivalent to 74.3 million tonnes of CO2. This is greater than the 44 million tonnes of CO2 emitted by cars each year.
But the International Energy Agency estimates that direct methane emissions from Australian coal mines in 2019 were double the reported amount. This would mean coal mines are releasing equivalent to 149Mt of CO2-e.
Even the IEA’s figure is likely to be conservative, with state of the art satellite data showing some coal mines are releasing ten times the amount officially recorded.
Ember’s methane analyst Dr Sabina Assan said, “Australia has a moral responsibility to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but increasingly, it also needs to reduce emissions to remain globally competitive as a trading nation.
“Failing to address direct methane emissions poses a risk to trade relationships with countries like Japan and South Korea, which, unlike Australia, have signed the Global Methane Pledge. China has also announced a methane action plan, aimed at cutting methane emissions in major industries, including coal mining.
“Australia is falling behind in a race it could be winning.
“The technology exists, but companies are not incentivised to deploy it. It is up to the Australian Government to legislate a robust and well thought out plan to rapidly reduce easy-to-tackle leaks in the short term and jump-start a just transition to phase out coal.”
Lock the Gate Alliance national coordinator Carmel Flint said, “Reducing methane emissions is ‘the low hanging fruit’ of climate action, because methane’s impact in the atmosphere is far greater but shorter lived than carbon dioxide.
“Australia has a methane problem - it is already the world’s sixth largest coal mine methane emitter, but those emissions are set to rise even further, as NSW and Qld continue to approve new and expanded coal mines.
“By limiting methane emissions from coal mining, the incoming Albanese Government can buy itself and the world time while the complex task of decarbonisation gets underway.
“We are calling for the Australian Government to sign the Global Methane Pledge, overhaul monitoring and reporting of mining methane emissions in Australia, and urgently address pollution from the super-emitting coal mines identified in this report.
“It’s time to take action in order to protect Australians who are facing hardship from extreme weather events including floods, fires, and heat waves fueled by climate change.”
Suzanne Harter, climate campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation said, “In Australia, methane from coal, oil and gas extraction, production and distribution is believed to be responsible for around 10% of our total emissions – but this important research shows it’s likely to be far higher.
“We’ve got a massive methane problem and it’s set to grow even worse if Australia continues to pursue more coal and gas projects and fails to accurately measure, report, regulate, and reduce methane emissions from active and abandoned mines.
“Plugging leaking methane from fossil fuel projects is one of the most effective – and one of the easiest – measures we can take to quickly cut greenhouse pollution in this crucial decade for climate action.”