Coal mine methane adds 27% to steel's climate footprint

  • London

  • 23 January 2023

Analysis by energy think tank Ember finds that methane emissions from coking coal mines add at least 27% to the global warming effect of steelmaking. 

The report published today shows that methane leaked during the extraction of metallurgical coal has an annual climate impact equivalent to nearly 990 million tonnes of CO2; more than Germany’s annual CO2 emissions, and more than the world’s gas pipelines and LNG facilities combined. As a result, methane emissions add 27% to the climate impact of the steel industry overall and in some cases methane-intensive coal can double steel’s climate impact.

“Steel producers have long ignored their methane footprint,” said Conal Campbell, a methane analyst at Ember. “The fact is, tackling methane leaks is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce the climate impact of steel. As major coal buyers, steelmakers have a responsibility to work with coal companies to quickly cut these emissions.”

Methane is a fast-acting greenhouse gas that has a climate impact 82.5 times greater than CO2 over twenty years, according to the IPCC. It is released during the extraction of fossil fuels, including coking coal used in steel production.

The report highlights that under the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions scenario for 2050, coking coal use needs to fall by 83% but governments’ announced pledges are only forecast to reduce methane-intensive metallurgical coal demand by 11% by 2030. 

Manfredi Caltagirone, Head of the United Nations Environment Program’s International Methane Emissions Observatory writes in the Foreword to Ember’s report: 

“[W]e urgently need to account for and address the substantial climate impact of methane from metallurgical coal in steel production. This entails that steel producers incentivize their metallurgical coal suppliers to do direct measurements of their methane emissions and mitigate them.”

One hundred-and-fifty countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge promising to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. 

As global steel demand is set to rise by more than a third through to 2050, tackling metallurgical coal mine methane is a significant lever to tackle the climate crisis with proven and low-cost mitigation options.