The coalmines worldwide are adding fuel to the global climate crisis by emitting into the atmosphere millions of tonnes of methane at the same rate as the aviation and shipping industries combined.
According to new research, millions of tonnes of methane emission by coal mines into the atmosphere is unchecked because policymakers have overlooked the rising climate threat.
As per the estimation of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the amount of methane seeping from new and disused coal mines last year may have reached just below 40m tonnes.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has a far more powerful effect on global temperatures than carbon dioxide. Therefore it is a major concern among climate scientists.
One tonne of methane in the climate is equivalent to 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the global energy watchdog estimates. It brings annual coalmine emissions at par with the international aviation and shipping sectors’ emissions combined.
Other shocking findings from the IEA in the same report revealed that carbon emissions from the global energy industry had made a new record in 2018 despite a boom in renewable energy in recent years.
This study is one of the first major global studies which examine the problem of methane emissions from coal mines and may explain the unexpected surge in methane emissions in recent years.
Last year’s rise in methane emissions was the third biggest in two decades, says the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As per a study by the American Geophysical Union, urgent action is needed to stop methane to spark an accelerated climate crisis in which temperatures rise well beyond the target of 2C of warming.
Oil and gas wells also release methane, which needs stricter regulation for the industry to reduce the impact of climate change. Currently, coal mines have managed to avoid similar scrutiny because of the absence of data.
An analyst at the climate thinktank Sandbag, Dave Jones, said the report shows that the coal industry worldwide “is even more polluting than we thought” and should face stricter regulation.
“Having such high-profile global research from the IEA showing such a big impact should help shock policymakers into addressing coalmine methane,” he said.
The methane leakage is on top of the pollution caused by burning coal to generate electricity, and Jones appeals to governments to start accounting for the emissions from coal and also methane.
According to the IEA, it would prove more challenging to tackle methane leakage from coal mines compared to the methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, and the situation will not be likely to improve before 2040.
The IEA said, if companies trap the greenhouse gas and sell it on to manufacturers, then oil producers could stop methane leaks at zero cost. However, capturing the emissions from coalmines would be technically tricky because of the lower concentration of methane released by the mines.
The IEA said: “The lower the concentration of methane, the more technically and economically difficult it is to abate.”
Based on the emissions reports from US miners and mining industry studies from China and India, the analysts tested findings against satellite-based estimates of total methane emissions of each country.
It found more methane emission from deeper coal seams than shallower seams, while older seams have higher methane content than younger seams. The findings were tested across all countries, having coalmines for estimation of the global scourge of coalmine methane.
China has a huge number of coal mines, and many coal mines that are more than 100 meters deep are the largest source of coalmine emissions. Russia, the US, India, and Australia are also among the worst coalmine methane producers of the world.