According to a study, emissions of climate-damaging methane from open-cast brown coal mining in Germany are significantly higher than expected. As the study by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and the Ember Climate Institute shows, Germany could emit around 184 times more methane in this area than officially stated. According to DUH, this is an estimate based on satellite data.

Germany has so far stated that it will be responsible for 1,390 tons of methane emissions from open-cast lignite mining in 2022 – that corresponds to one percent of EU-wide methane emissions from this area. The study authors assume that, according to their calculations, it would have to be almost 256,000 tons. They also point out that German brown coal production will have accounted for more than 40 percent of the total production of the fuel in the EU in 2022.

Outdated numbers from the 80s

In Germany and many other countries there are currently no reliable measurements of methane pollution from open-cast lignite mining, it goes on to say. The official emissions reporting is based on outdated figures from the RWE subsidiary Rheinbraun AG. These were collected in the 80s. For example, former opencast mines that continued to emit methane after their active period would not be recorded.

For the study, satellite images of the Hambach opencast mine in the Rhenish lignite mining area, the Welzow-Süd opencast mine in Lusatia and the opencast mining lakes in the Lusatian Lake District were analyzed, among other things. It is said that particularly high methane emissions were measured there.

“Just an empty promise”

“In order to maintain the 1.5 degree limit, global methane emissions must fall massively,” warned DUH Federal Managing Director Sascha Müller-Kraenner. But that is “just an empty promise as long as Germany at the same time understates a significant part of its emissions by a possibly three-digit factor,” he criticized. Environmental Aid called on the federal government to present a cross-sector reduction strategy for methane.

Today the European Parliament is voting on a regulation to reduce methane emissions across the EU. It provides for stricter rules for emissions from the energy sector. For example, operators of oil and gas plants should be required to regularly search for and repair major methane leaks.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2). A significant source of methane is therefore animal husbandry in agriculture. In addition, emissions arise when fuels are extracted, mined and distributed.