New EU-wide methane regulation to significantly reduce methane emissions from coal mines

  • Sydney, Australia

  • 11 May 2023

The first EU-wide legislation on methane emissions, once it comes into force, could reduce the EU’s cumulative methane emissions from coal mines by approximately 40% until 2040, according to an analysis by global energy think tank Ember.

The European Parliament has adopted its position Tuesday on a new law that aims at reducing energy sector methane emission by 58% by the end of the decade. According to Ember, the proposed regulation will cap the amount of methane that coal mines are allowed to release and have a significant impact on its emissions reduction. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and accounts for one third of current global warming. 

According to the greenhouse gas data reported to the UNFCCC, coal mines in the EU emitted 943 thousand tonnes of methane in 2020, making the coal industry the single largest methane emitter in the energy sector, emitting more than the oil and gas sectors combined. Using methane’s 20 year global warming potential, this is equivalent to 78 million tonnes of CO2-e, more than Austria’s total annual CO2 emissions.

Under the new regulation, Ember estimates that the EU’s coal mine methane emissions could be reduced by 40%, plummeting from 950,000 tonnes under current policies to around 560,000 tonnes by 2040. 

Due to methane’s heightened impact on global warming, this would equate to an annual saving of 31 million tonnes of CO2e (using methane’s 20-year global warming potential), almost the size of annual emissions of Switzerland in 2021.

A turning point for EU’s coal mine methane reduction

Coal mines are the largest single source of energy sector methane emissions in the EU. The new regulation, voted by the key committees in the European Parliament, covers both active underground mines, as well as abandoned and closed underground mines. In addition, importers of coal, oil and gas will be obliged to demonstrate that imported fossil energy also meets the requirements in the regulation. It will be discussed in “trilogues” between EU energy ministers, the European Parliament and European Commission. 

The regulation imposes a ban on venting methane emissions from drainage stations from 2025, with any flaring required to be 98% efficient. It also sets a venting threshold at 5 tonnes of methane per kilo tonne of coal mined from 2027 for emissions from ventilation shafts of operating mines, which will then be restricted further to 3 t/kt by 2031.

It also requires member states to set national reduction targets as part of their integrated national energy and climate goals. Currently, almost two-thirds of the EU coal mine methane emissions comes from Poland, with the majority of Poland’s reported emissions coming from the country’s 12 high-methane underground hard coal mines, according to Ember’s analysis. Romania is the EU’s second-largest Coal Mine Methane (CMM) emitter, representing 85% of the EU’s Abandoned Mine Methane (AMM) emissions.

More investments, cleaner air

The regulation had a significant spillover effect on the public understanding of the environmental and health impacts of methane from coal mines. It will also incentivise more sustainable investments in methane capture and management, ensuring that coal production in the EU is less methane intensive, and safer for miners. In fact, Europe’s largest coal miners (PGG and JSW) have pledged more investment in methane capture.

Methane is not only a greenhouse gas, but also endangers local communities living around active and abandoned mines. The regulation takes the next important step in the process of ensuring clear air in post-industrial regions. Methane from closed mines can also be used in district heating and energy production.

Valuable lessons for the rest of the world

The EU joins the US in bringing to life the commitments from the Global Methane Pledge made two years ago and offers an example for other countries with high coal production.

The new regulation promises large cuts that are achievable for the biggest companies, ensuring no negative societal impacts on mining communities, and encourages coal operators to take responsibility for abandoned mines and consider their economic potential.

The EU’s new regulation on the methane emissions from coal mines is an important step towards a more sustainable future.

The world is looking to learn from the EU as it implements a new ground-breaking regulatory framework to tackle methane emissions. The tighter requirements for EU coal mines will help to cut their emissions by 40% by 2031. The key takeaways for other countries are the crucial importance of restricting ‘venting’ of methane to the atmosphere and significant improvements to handling abandoned coal mines.

Dr Sabina Assan Methane Analyst, Ember

The EU regulation is a valuable example of what the government could be doing to tackle the vast amounts of methane spewing out of coal mines right now. At least 30% of the country’s methane emissions come straight out of coal mines every year, and much of that simply is vented into the atmosphere. It's great to see the EU clearly understands that this is a problem we can fix quickly and cost effectively. I hope Australian regulators are taking note.

Chris Wright Climate Strategy Advisor, Ember

The regulation will now be discussed within the EU’s ‘trilogues’ between EU energy ministers, the European Parliament and European Commission. It is expected to be adopted into EU law in 2024.