BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - According to a study, emissions of climate-damaging methane from opencast lignite mining in Germany are significantly higher than assumed. According to the study by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and the Ember Climate Institute, Germany emits around 184 times more methane in this area than officially stated. According to DUH, this is an estimate based on satellite data. Doubts about the estimates were raised by the Federal Environment Agency.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2). A major source of methane is therefore animal husbandry in agriculture. Emissions are also produced when fuels are extracted, demanded and distributed.

Germany has so far stated that it is responsible for 1390 tons of methane emissions from opencast lignite mining in 2022 - this corresponds to one percent of EU-wide methane emissions from this sector, according to the study. The authors of the study assume that, according to their calculations, it should be just under 256,000 tons. They also point out that German lignite production in 2022 accounted for more than 40 percent of the total production of the fuel in the EU.

In Germany and many other countries, there have been no reliable measurements of methane pollution from opencast lignite mining to date. Official emissions reporting is based on outdated figures from RWE subsidiary Rheinbraun AG. These were collected in the 1980s. Former opencast mines that continued to emit methane after their active period were not included, for example.

The Federal Environment Agency confirmed that there were unanswered questions regarding the measurement. "From the point of view of the Federal Environment Agency, however, the study presented does not take important factors into account and is methodologically inaccurate at key points," says Christian Bottcher, who works on the calculation of emissions at the Federal Environment Agency. "We therefore assume that the study overestimates German methane emissions."

A spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection said: "Efforts to reduce methane emissions are not sufficient from a global perspective." He acknowledged gaps in the global recording of methane emissions, but also referred to German successes in reducing them. For example, there has been a drastic reduction in emissions in the energy and waste sector. Further efforts are needed in the energy sector, even if the amount of emissions here is low, as Germany only has a small amount of oil and gas production of its own. "The best solution for reducing emissions in the coal sector is to phase out coal." The ministry announced that it would review the study, but emphasized that the measurements were based on standards agreed within the United Nations and the EU.

For the study, satellite images of the Hambach open-cast mine in the Rhenish lignite mining area, the Welzow-Süd open-cast mine in Lusatia and the open-cast lakes in the Lusatian Lakeland were analyzed. According to the report, particularly high methane emissions were measured there.

"In order to comply with the 1.5-degree limit, global methane emissions must be massively reduced," warned DUH Federal Managing Director Sascha Müller-Kraenner on Wednesday. However, this is "only an empty promise as long as Germany simultaneously understates a significant proportion of its emissions, possibly by a factor of three", he criticized. Environmental Aid called on the German government to present a cross-sectoral reduction strategy for methane.

This Wednesday, the European Parliament will vote 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 are to be obliged to regularly search for and repair major methane leaks./faa/DP/he