The Global Energy Monitor estimates 7.2 billion tonnes of coal are mined each year, from 3,670 recorded coal mines across 70 countries. Coal mining worldwide emits around 52 million tonnes of methane per year (equivalent to 4,320 million tonnes of CO2*), more than oil (39 million tonnes) or gas (45 million tonnes). If new coal mines under development go ahead, they would add another 11.3 million tonnes of methane per year (equivalent to 936 million tonnes of CO2*). Methane is a powerful climate change accelerant.
In the ‘gassiest’ of coal mines, the methane released during the act of coal mining contributes as much to climate change as burning the coal mined. Unlike CO2 from burning coal, methane release from mining coal is not consistently measured and there is little in the way of international commitments to reduce it. This is concerning as coal mine methane emissions must fall 11% each year until 2030 if we are to remain within reach of the International Energy Agency’s roadmap for Net Zero 2030, according to Global Energy Monitor.
As of September 2023, the UK has no opencast coal mines operating legally, but Ffos-y-fran is operating a year after its 15 year planning permission expired. There is a further deep coal mine, Aberpergwm that secured an extension in 2022 to operate until 2039 – a legal challenge to this was submitted to the Court of Appeal by Coal Action Network in August 2023. Finally, a new deep coal mine proposal gained permission in December 2022, but is awaiting 2 legal challenges on its validity. Although significant, this volume of coal mining is tiny compared with the historical coal mining sector in the UK which was a major employer with tens of thousands of workers, whereas in June 2023, the sector employed just 359 people.
Below shows these coal mines with the expected quantities of coal to be mined and associated emissions – click on the coal mines to find out more.
* measured over 20 years, UNECE