Prime Minister Anthony Albanese could "blow Australia’s climate goals” if he continues to support expansion of the coal industry, findings of a new international report suggest.
Methane leaking from coal mines are double previous estimates, according to UK-based think-tank Ember which used data from advanced satellites to measure emissions.
Labor's commitment to expanding and opening coal projects puts Australia on track to catapult from the world's sixth-biggest emitter of coal mine emissions to number three, report lead author Dr Sabina Assan warns.
That puts Australia behind just two countries — China and Russia.
"Methane emissions don't just affect Australia, it's a global effect that everyone around the world is going to feel," Dr Assan told Yahoo News Australia from Italy on Tuesday night.
"We're seeing initiatives pop up over the world aiming to reduce methane, and the proposed coal mines in Australia are starkly in contrast to any efforts to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel industry.
Ember is instead calling on the Commonwealth to cease support for the coal industry, a step necessary to make the country's “already weak” climate targets achievable.
Ember’s Dr Sabina Assan said Australia must rapidly work to prevent methane leaks from mines in the short-term, and “jump-start” a phase-out of coal.
“Australia is falling behind in a race it could be winning,” she said.
Coal mine methane has bigger impact than cars, report suggests
Ember’s calculations suggest coal mine emissions of this gas are having almost twice the impact on climate than all of the nations’ cars combined.
That's because on a per molecule basis methane is more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to absorbing outgoing infrared radiation, resulting in global heating.
Despite this, it only has a half-life of nine to 10 years, compared to carbon dioxide which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Reducing methane is key to global efforts to meet 2030 emissions targets.
How Ember says could help Australia reduce emissions
Stopping the opening of new coal mines
Close super-emitting mines
Phasing out thermal coal
Using new technologies at existing mines
The two Aussie states behind the nation's coal emissions
Queensland and NSW produce 90 per cent of Australia's coal and are responsible for the bulk of the methane emissions problem.
Some open-cut mines are thought to be contributing 10 times more of the gas than previously reported, according to satellite data.
The Australian government’s measuring of coal mine methane has also been called into question by the International Energy Agency which calculated the nation actually emitted 1.8 million tonnes in 2021, twice what was reported.
That means rather than contributing five per cent of Australia’s total methane emissions, coal could be responsible for 10 per cent.
Labor could face pressure to strengthen emissions targets
Last year, Australia declined to join over 100 countries that committed to reduce methane by 30 per cent by 2030.
With agriculture responsible of the most emissions of the greenhouse gas, then Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce warned reducing herd sizes would be the only way to achieve this.
“The only way you can get your 30 per cent by 2030 reduction in methane on 2020 levels, would be to go and grab a rifle, go out and start shooting your cattle because it's just not possible,” he said in November.
Needing either support from the opposition or the climate-focused independents and the Greens to pass legislation through the senate, the party could face pressure to strengthen its targets.
Labor also faces pressure to achieve stronger climate outcomes from Pacific nations who are being wooed by China to form stronger bilateral relationships.
Australia has also been severely impacted by climate change, with the 2019 / 2020 Black Summer bushfires, the 2022 NSW and Queensland floods and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef linked to the crisis.
Lock the Gate Alliance contributed to Ember's Tackling Australia’s Coal Mine Methane Problem report.
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