April 29, 2021
Issue 367  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The US-convened Leaders’ Summit on Climate succeeded in putting the future of coal on centre stage. South Korea pledged not to fund new overseas coal plants and China’s President Xi Jinping restated earlier commitments and flagged cuts in coal consumption. The US is also considering legislating for an 80 per cent emissions reduction target for the power sector, effectively ending coal generation in the medium term. In Japan, another major proposed coal plant has been cancelled and one of the country’s largest coal generators faces a shareholder resolution urging an end to the construction of new plants and retrofitting existing units with carbon capture technology.

In Europe, a record high cost of carbon emissions is set to force a dramatic reappraisal of the future of coal. A new report tips the cost of carbon emissions could triple by 2030 and force the retirement of just about all existing coal plants. Greece, which was until recent times one of Europe’s climate laggards with a fleet of dirty old lignite plants, will now end coal generation by 2025 instead of 2028.

While the dramatic falls in the cost of wind and solar, and more recently batteries, has paved the way for the retirement of coal plants, the deals done by powerful utilities and coal mining companies remains a significant impediment. In the US, FirstEnergy has revealed it is seeking to negotiate a deal with federal prosecutors over the Ohio utility scandal in which failing coal and nuclear plants were bailed out. In China, Xi has announced the expansion of an investigation into corruption in the coal sector in Inner Mongolia, which produces a billion tonnes of coal a year and has new coal plants under construction and even more proposed.

Bob Burton


China builds coal power plant in Bangladesh despite protests

A Chinese-backed coal power plant is being built in Bangladesh allegedly by evicting locals from their land and grabbing a riverbed, writes Abu Siddique in The Third Pole.

A document from the United Mine Workers offers reason to hope

We can and should make a good-faith effort to help coal workers and regions that will lose as we try to avoid environmental catastrophe, writes Paul Kugman in the New York Times.

Glencore’s transition plan translates into nine new coal mines and expansions

History will not look back kindly at institutional investors’ endorsement of Glencore’s coal expansionism in 2021, writes Dan Gocher from the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility in RenewEconomy.


Greece accelerates coal plant closures

Greece’s Public Power Corporation (PPC) has announced it will bring forward the end of coal generation in the country to 2025 instead of the previous commitment of 2028. At the centre of the issue is the fate of the 660 megawatt (MW) Ptolemaida 5 lignite plant which PPC began construction of in 2016 despite community opposition. In 2019, PPC said the €1.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) plant, which is due to be commissioned in 2022, would operate on lignite until 2028 and then be converted to run on gas to comply with the government’s date for a coal phase-out. Environmentalists have doubts the project will ever run on lignite as the rapid rise in the European Union carbon price is further undermining the viability of coal generation. PPC has previously announced its other remaining lignite units will close by 2023. Mahi Sideridou, from the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, said PPC should now focus on Greece’s “enormous renewable energy potential” rather than pin the future of former coal communities to the fortunes of another fossil fuel. (Euractiv, Europe Beyond Coal

South Korea bans finance for overseas coal plants

President Moon Jae-in announced at the US-convened Leaders’ Summit on Climate that South Korea would end all new financing for overseas coal power projects and would announce more ambitious domestic emissions reduction plans in the near future. In his address Moon said that “to become carbon neutral, it is imperative for the world to scale down coal-fired power plants” while noting some countries with reliance on coal power should be provided with additional support. Joojin Kim from the South Korean NGO Solutions for Our Climate said the announcement “spells the near end of cheap finance for coal power projects in Asia”. However, he called for South Korea to end its support for the Jawa 9 and 10 coal plants in Indonesia and the Vung Ang 2 plant in Vietnam and instead support renewable energy infrastructure. (Reuters, Bloomberg Quint, Argus)

Another Japanese coal plant cancelled

Kiko Network, a Japanese NGO, has welcomed the decision by Kanden Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), to cancel its proposed 1300 MW Akita Port power plant. In a media release the company stated the project had been cancelled “because it became difficult to predict the feasibility of this project” [translation]. With the cancellation of the project, Japan now has no further proposed coal plants beyond the eight currently under construction. The Akita Port project was first proposed in 2015 and, despite community opposition, was approved in 2018. However, in 2019 it was reported Marubeni Corporation was trying to persuade Kanden Energy Solutions, its joint venture partner in the project, to abandon the proposal. (Kanden Energy Solution [Japanese])

Top News

Chinese President singles out coal consumption for cuts: Chinese President Xi Jinping told the Climate Leaders’ Summit China would “strictly limit the increase in coal consumption” during 2021–2025 and “phase it down” after 2025. Analysts note that while the 2025 peak in coal consumption was implied in an earlier commitment to peak emissions before 2030, the emphasis on limiting growth in the current five-year plan suggests further measures with specific targets may be announced in the near future. (Sxcoal, Marketwatch, Lauri Myllyvirta [Tweet])

President Xi expands scope of Inner Mongolia coal corruption investigations: Chinese President Xi Jinping told deputies from Inner Mongolia in March that a campaign targeting corruption in the coal industry would be expanded to cover the last 20 years. Since launching the campaign last year official media sources state 960 officials and communist party members have been investigated in 676 corruption cases connected to Inner Mongolia’s coal industry. Inner Mongolia produced about 1 billion tonnes of coal in 2019 and is the second-largest producer in the country. The anti-corruption campaign is also viewed by analysts as a way for Xi to consolidate his power in the province. The Global Coal Plant Tracker notes there is 19,300 MW of proposed new coal plants in the province with a furthe

US considers ambitious target for 2030: President Joe Biden is considering adopting a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for the power sector of 80 per cent by 2030. It is proposed the target could be legislated through a clean energy standard for the power sector as the Democrats have a majority in Congress. A study by Energy Innovation and the University of California estimates increasing fossil-fuel-free generation from the current 40 per cent to 80 per cent can be achieved with current technologies, primarily wind and solar, at no additional cost. It assumes all coal generation is retired by 2030. It also estimates that doubling non-fossil-fuel generation would avoid over US$1.7 trillion in health and environmental costs, including 93,000 avoided premature deaths. (Reuters, Energy Innovation)

US utility in negotiations with prosecutors over Ohio scandal: FirstEnergy Corporation has informed shareholders it is in discussions with federal prosecutors over a potential “deferred prosecution agreement” which would allow it to avoid a potential criminal prosecution over its role in the Ohio bailout scandal. While a deferred prosecution agreement would avoid a trial it is likely to involve co-operation with prosecutors and a fine with the company stating that “it is probable that it will incur a loss in connection with the resolution of this investigation.” In July 2020 federal prosecutors arrested then Ohio House of Representative Speaker Larry Householder and four others over an alleged US$61 million bribery scheme over bailout legislation of coal and nuclear plants. FirstEnergy is also the subject of six legal actions over the scandal, including from shareholders, customers and the State of Ohio. (Columbus Dispatch, FirstEnergy)

Two more financial services companies exclude Adani: Gallagher Global, one of the world's biggest insurance brokers, has ruled out providing any insurance broking services for Adani and its proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. Arch Capital Group has also confirmed it will not issue any insurance policies covering Adani’s project. In London, Insurance Rebellion dumped a load of pretend coal in front of the offices of Lloyd’s of London, one of the major insurance companies that still hasn’t ruled out insuring or investing in coal projects such as Adani’s mine or other fossil fuel projects. (Royal Gazette, Arch, Insurance Times)

Alberta government ignored tourism impact when overturning coal policy: Kate White, the Deputy Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, told an Alberta parliamentary committee hearing that the United Conservative government did not consider the potential impact on the tourism industry when it decided in May 2020 to revoke the province’s 44-year-old policy protecting the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains from open cut mining. “There was no analysis around the implications of the coal policy on the 10-year tourism strategy,” White said. In October 2019 the then minister, Tanya Fir, announced a 10-year tourism plan aimed to double the tourism industry’s revenue. Around the same time Fir wrote to one of the coal companies promoting a project in the Rockies and offered to assist the company. (CBC)

Two new Australian mine expansions approved: New South Wales regulators have approved the expansions of two existing mines. In the Upper Hunter Valley the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) approved a plan by Mangoola Coal Operations, a subsidiary of Glencore, to extract an additional 52 million tonnes of thermal coal over eight years at the Mangoola mine near Muswellbrook. Days later the IPC approved the expansion of the Tahmoor Colliery, a metallurgical coal mine owned by Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance. (Guardian, ABC News)

Queensland agency recommends rejection of coal mine: The Queensland Environment Department has recommended against approval of Central Queensland Coal Project as it “presents a number of unacceptable risks that cannot be adequately managed or avoided.” The project, which aimed to produce up to 10 million tonnes of thermal and metallurgical coal a year, was proposed by subsidiaries of Mineralogy, a company owned by businessman Clive Palmer. The department stated the project is “not suitable to proceed” and warned risks to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area “have not been adequately addressed.” The department’s recommendation has been welcomed by Lock the Gate Alliance which said the project would have posed a threat to the reef and nearby coastal habitat. The proposal and the department’s assessment of the project recommendation will now go on to the Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, for her review. (Brisbane Times, Lock the Gate)


Mozambique:  Vale hopes to sign an agreement by the end of the year to sell its Moatize coal project.

Pakistan: To control debt levels the government is considering not allowing new coal plants beyond those under construction.

Philippines: Bank of the Philippine Islands aims to halve coal plant funding over the next five years.

Companies + Markets

Soaring European Union carbon prices hit coal generation: European Union carbon prices have reached an all-time high of €47 per tonne (US$56.89 per tonne) after the European Parliament and Council reached an informal agreement to adopt a target of 55 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 compared to a 1990 baseline. The previous target was for a 40 per cent emissions reduction target. The new target is likely to result in stricter annual carbon emission limits with reduced carbon allowances for fossil fuel power generators. Higher prices will have a significant impact on coal generators especially those with lignite plants. In the journal Applied Energy, researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research estimate the new target may lead to the carbon price tripling to roughly €130 per tonne (US$157 per tonne) of carbon dioxide in 2030. “This would be the end of coal-generated power as we know it – a meager 17 terawatt hours in 2030, 2 per cent of what it was in 2015,” they write. (S & P Global, Applied Energy)

Report reveals HSBC’s role in global coal fleet expansions: A report by Market Forces has found investment bank HSBC’s new climate policy announcing phase-out dates for its financing for the coal industry does not extend to its investments in a raft of power utilities pushing new coal plant capacity. The report estimates HSBC holds stakes in 19 out of 32 listed companies in the Global Coal Exit List of the world’s top 100 developers of new coal plants. The 19 companies HSBC has an interest in are promoting the construction of a further 99,000 MW in 11 countries including in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. The report estimates the projects could generate up to 15 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over their lifetimes. (Market Forces)

Major Indian utilities rule out more coal plants: A report by the Delhi-based Climate Trends estimates Indian state and major power utilities which account for half of the country’s generation capacity have ruled out or heavily restricted new coal plant capacity. Utility NTPC, which accounts for about one quarter of India’s power generation capacity, has ruled out new greenfield plants while Tata Power and JSW Energy have ruled out new plants altogether. Four states – Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka – have also ruled out new coal plants. (Economic Times)

Korea’s coal power plants to lose profitability before lifetime end: A report by Carbon Tracker Initiative estimates four new coal plants under construction in South Korea are likely to have a short commercial life and are projected to become unprofitable between 2035 and 2040 due to increased renewables deployment. The report estimates most existing coal plants will become uneconomical between 2030 and 2035 driven by the introduction of a carbon emissions cap and the growth of renewables. The report estimates plants originally scheduled to be retired at the end of their technical life between 2031 and 2035 will start to become uneconomic by 2025. (Korea Herald)

UBS tightens coal lending restrictions: Swiss financial services company UBS has tightened lending restrictions for power utilities by lowering the threshold share of coal generation from 30 per cent of electricity to 20 per cent. It has also lowered the thermal coal revenue threshold for mining companies from 30 per cent to 20 per cent. However for both coal mining and power utilities UBS said exemptions from the thresholds could be granted to companies that have a transition agreement in line with the Paris Agreement or if the founds sought were for renewable energy. (Reuters, UBS [Pdf])

MUFG revises coal lending policy with new loopholes added to old ones: Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group has revised its environmental policy to expand its previous qualified ban on financing new coal plants to also include the expansion of existing plants. However, the policy maintains major loopholes and adds a new one. As with the old policy, an exception to the ban on coal plant financing is allowed if the project includes carbon capture and storage. The new policy also allows the financing of coal plant expansion with “mixed combustion, and other technologies necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement target”. The policy does not define what it means by “mixed combustion” but coal plants can be co-fired with wood pellets and other fuels such as ammonia. (Nasdaq, MUFG [Pdf])

Japanese utility faces shareholder resolution pushing coal cut: Kyoto City Government has submitted a shareholder resolution to Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) calling for the utility to stop building new coal plants and to retrofit its existing coal plants with carbon capture and storage units. KEPCO is the second-largest generator of electricity from fossil fuels in Japan and earlier this week announced it had scrapped plans for the 1300 MW Akita Port plant. Kyoto City’s resolution will be voted on at the company’s annual general meeting in June. (Reuters)

Mongolia pitches bond sale to finance Tavan Tolgoi development: Mongolia’s state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi is seeking to raise 2 trillion tugriks (US$700 million) from a two-year bond issue to fund the construction of rail infrastructure to connect the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine to the Chinese market. The Tavan Tolgoi mine has suffered repeated setbacks over the last decade including failed plans to list the company on international stock exchanges. Tavan Tolgoi plans to spend US$3.4 billion over the next five years including for water pipelines, a coal washing plant and a 450 MW coal power plant to supply Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi copper mine and processing plant. (Reuters)


Green Steel Tracker, The Leadership Group for Industry Transition, April 2021.

This open-access database tracks public announcements of low-carbon investments in the steel industry in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Coal mines, carbon budgets and human rights in Australian climate litigation: Reflections on Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning and Environment”, Australian Journal of Human Rights, April 2021. (Abstract only; full article paywalled)

The paper analyses the case over the proposed Rocky Hill mine, the first time that an Australian court rejected a coal mine partly on climate change grounds.