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'Methane madness' as coal miners lag farmers' efforts

Many Aussies assume the nation's methane problem is caused by farts from livestock but coal mines are also big emitters.

The annual global methane tracker report shows Australia was the world's sixth-largest emitter of methane from coal mines in 2022.

The International Energy Agency calculates Australia's coal mines emitted 1.7 million tonnes of methane in 2022, equivalent to 140 million tonnes of carbon and more than double the annual emissions of all Australia's cars.

The latest report highlights the most effective ways to limit coal mine methane emissions, in addition to reducing consumption of coal.

There are viable, low-cost technologies that could more than halve coal's methane emissions across the world, the report found.

Annika Reynolds, methane adviser at energy think tank Ember, said Australia has been significantly underestimating its coal mine methane problem.

"The sector, in partnership with government, needs to improve how it measures and mitigates methane as a first priority," she said.

"The IEA's report shows that it is possible to tackle more than half the world's coal mine methane emissions at low cost," she said.

Methane is an intense greenhouse gas that is responsible for almost a third of the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution, according to the IEA.

The agency says the energy sector - including oil, gas, coal and bioenergy - accounts for nearly 40 per cent of methane emissions from human activity.

"Emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough, especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming," IEA head Fatih Birol said.

"There is just no excuse," he said.

The Albanese government last year signed a global pledge to reduce methane emissions from human activities by 30 per cent by 2030.

Australia could deliver two-thirds of that commitment by tackling coal mines as a major source of emissions, research by Ember has found.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said it was "methane madness" not to act as the intense greenhouse gas is more than 80 times more damaging to the atmosphere over 20 years than carbon dioxide.

"While farmers in Australia are working to reduce the methane from their livestock, we have not seen the same initiative from the coal and gas sector," ACF spokeswoman Suzanne Harter said

"There are strong indications companies are under-reporting methane emissions, often relying on estimates rather than direct measurement," she added.

She said satellite data has found some coal mines emit significantly more methane than they report, and expanding coal operations would lock in these uncontrolled emissions for years.

The IEA said satellites are providing an ever-clearer picture of methane emissions, including uncontrolled big-emitting events during fossil fuel production.

The global tracker incorporates their latest readings along with data from other science-based measurement campaigns.

Separately, a study by Princeton University and Colorado State University released last month found methane leaks from offshore gas and oil projects are substantially underestimated globally.