With 12 new coal mines now at a pre-construction phase, Canada has vaulted into seventh place among the countries with the highest output of climate-busting methane from new mining projects, according to a new analysis released this morning by Global Energy Monitor (GEM).
The assessment also puts Canada in a tie for sixth place, alongside the United States, for the number of new mines in pre-construction, the Monitor reports.
The analysis shows China with a wide lead, with methane emissions from new coal mines equivalent to 572 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year over the next 20 years, followed by Australia at 233 megatonnes equivalent, Russia at 125 Mt, and India at 45 Mt.
Canada’s methane contribution is modest by comparison, at 17 Mt per year. But it comes from a country that pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 and helped lead a high-profile event at the 2017 UN climate conference in Bonn as a co-founder of the Powering Past Coal Alliance.
Counting carbon dioxide as well as methane, emissions from new Canadian coal mines under construction or proposed total 39 Mt per year.
And that renewed embrace of coal mining is part of a much bigger global trend.
“A frenzy of new mine projects and proposals in some of the worldʼs gassiest coal seams could emit enough methane to rival the current CO2 emissions from coal plants in the United States,” GEM writes in a new briefing paper. “Unless mitigated, methane emissions from these proposed mines, currently in construction or pre-construction planning, would amount to 13.5 million tonnes of methane annually, a 30% increase over current emissions.”
That’s the equivalent of 1,135 million tonnes of CO2 per year over the next two decades, enough to exceeds the 952 Mt of emissions from all U.S. coal plants in 2019, the briefing paper notes. Methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.
GEM’s Global Coal Mine Tracker includes 433 known mines producing at least five million tonnes of coal per year, and 432 proposed mines with annual capacity of at least a million tonnes.
The 140 new mines now under development in China account for “by far the largest potential increase in global coal mine methane emissions,” GEM writes. The “gassiest” mines with the highest proportion of methane in their potential emissions are in China, the United States, Turkey, Poland, and Uzbekistan. Most of the biggest projects are under the control of state-owned enterprises in China and India.
GEM warns that its estimates will likely rise as it expands its coverage of operating mines.
“By some estimates, underground mines emit 10 times more methane per tonne of coal than surface operations,” the analysts write. “Our survey of major mines is 55% surface operations, but underground mines account for roughly 69 to 70% of global operations, meaning that when numerous underground mines yet to be tabulated by GEM are added to the totals, it will likely drive aggregate tallies well north of the [International Energy Agency]ʼs 40-Mt estimate for coal mine methane emissions.”