The IEA estimated that Australian coal mines emitted 1.8 million tonnes of methane in 2021, double the officially reported figures. Independent satellite measurements have also uncovered underreporting of methane emissions from Australian coal mines.
Australia’s coal mines have a methane problem. In 2019, they released 68% of Australia’s methane emissions from the energy industry overall, making coal mines a larger contributor than both oil and gas. What’s more, new evidence suggests emissions are underreported and are actually significantly higher than this.
Methane leaking from coal mines has been ignored for many years, but tackling it is the ‘low hanging fruit’ in Australia’s effort to combat climate change. Methane is a potent and fast-acting greenhouse gas, which is 82.5 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 20 years, making the task of reducing methane levels even more important in the near-term.
Reducing coal use, and legislating the end of new coal, are crucial to this goal. To tackle leaks immediately, existing technology must be used to directly measure methane emissions as well as capture and/or utilise the methane leaking from active and closed coal mines. It is up to the Australian government to legislate a robust plan to rapidly reduce leaks in the short term and jump-start a just transition to phase out coal.