December 21, 2017
Issue 213  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The year is coming to an end with a flurry of major coal developments: some good, some bad.

In Australia, a strong local community campaign has seen the rejection of the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine in New South Wales. Adani’s Carmichael coal project in Queensland is looking shakier than ever and BHP has announced it is likely to cancel its membership of the World Coal Association and put several other lobby groups on notice. In Taiwan, thousands of people took to the streets of two major cities demanding action on air pollution and dramatic cuts in coal power. In Germany, an opinion poll reveals a high level of support for phasing out coal power. In China, more details on an emissions trading scheme applying to the power sector have been unveiled.

Elsewhere it hasn’t been such a good week, with energy ministers of the European Union proposing to allow capacity payments for coal plants until 2030 while in Sri Lanka two ministers are seeking to propose plans for new coal plants even though the regulator dismissed them as too expensive earlier this year.

Even so, 2017 has seen a remarkable shift away from coal: renewables have fast become the default option in many countries on cost alone while growing public alarm over pollution has increased political pressure for a shift away from coal power. Many investors and investment fund managers have got the message too. All of which promises to make 2018 even more decisive in efforts to ensure clean air and a safe climate.

CoalWire will be taking a short break and will be back in January.

Bob Burton


BHP may dump global group but forgive Australian coal lobby

In response to a review of the climate and energy policy advocacy of industry associations it belongs to, BHP has signalled it will most likely axe its membership of the World Coal Association but has taken a far more forgiving approach to Australian coal lobby groups, writes Bob Burton in RenewEconomy.

The further unravelling of Adani’s Carmichael coal project

Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine is looking shakier than ever, write Tim Buckley and Simon Nicholas from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in RenewEconomy.


Rocky Hill mine in NSW canned

To the delight of local residents, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) has refused permits for the proposed Rocky Hill Coal Project near the town of Gloucester. The PAC also determined that, as changes also proposed by Yancoal with its Stratford Extension Project were tied to the Rocky Hill project, they too should be rejected. The PAC found the development of 497 hectares of agricultural land for the proposed open-cut metallurgical coal mine would be incompatible with the protection of the scenic amenity of the town and rural surroundings. While Gloucester Groundswell has welcomed the decision, they are calling on the NSW Government to cancel or buy back the exploration licence. (Newcastle Herald, Planning Assessment Commission)

Top News

BHP looks to dump World Coal Association; others on notice: BHP, one of the world’s largest coal exporters, has announced it will leave the World Coal Association by the end of March 2018 unless the organisation’s climate and energy advocacy is consistent with the company’s climate policies. BHP has also stated it will give the US Chamber of Commerce until March to respond to its concerns and will decide within a year whether to leave the Minerals Council of Australia. BHP undertook the review of industry associations it belongs to after the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility submitted a resolution to the company’s Annual General Meetings in London and Melbourne in November. (ABC News, Guardian)

Former Indian state chief minister and national coal secretary get prison sentence: The former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, the former coal secretary H C Gupta, and two Jharkhand officials have all been sentenced to serve three years in prison after being found guilty of conspiring to misallocate the Rajhara North coal block in Jharkhand to Vini Iron and Steel Udyog. While Gupta did not personally benefit from the allocation, the court found he withheld information from then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, that the coal block did not have the support of Jharkhand Government or the Ministry of Steel. (Times of India, Economic Times)

India to develop national clean air plan: India’s Environment Minister, Harsh Vardhan, has announced that the government has formulated a National Clean Air Programme. While the minister stated the programme would include “all sources of pollution” and involve a broad range of agencies and stakeholders, details remain sketchy. The commitment to a national plan, which has been promoted by a wide coalition of community groups, has been welcomed by Greenpeace India which is calling for “precise targets with clear timelines” aimed at ensuring measurable public health improvements. (India Today, Greenpeace India)

Thousands march against Taiwan coal plants: An estimated 8000 people took to the streets of Taichung and Kaohsiung to protest against pollution from coal power and other industrial plants. A growing public backlash against coal plant pollution and frustration at the lack of government action has become a defining issue in Taiwanese politics. (Taipei Times, The News Lens)

Sri Lankan ministers seek to revive coal plant push: To the surprise of environmentalists, two Cabinet Ministers have proposed the construction of two new 600 megawatt (MW) coal units at Sampur and Norochcholai. In July, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka rejected the inclusion of coal plants as being too expensive, after seeking public comment on Ceylon Electricity Board’s long-term energy generation plan for 2018–37. A coalition of environmental groups object to the proposed coal plants as being incompatible with Sri Lanka’s support for the Paris Agreement and note the current electricity supply plan can’t legally be changed until 2019. (News First, Colombo Gazette)

Strong public support for German coal phase-out: A public opinion survey has revealed that 63 per cent of those surveyed support a coal phase-out in Germany, with 43 per cent stating they strongly support the idea and a further 20 per cent supporting it. Only 11 per cent of those surveyed said they oppose or strongly oppose a coal phase-out. “We were a bit surprised by this outcome, which shows that the public is more ready to phase-out coal than politicians may realize,” said Daniela Setton from the Institute of Advanced Sustainability, the group which undertook the survey. (Energy Transition)

“Newcastle, the world’s largest [export] coal port, is now transitioning to a lower carbon world … it should reaffirm to investors that the transition away from coal is taking place rapidly now, that continued investment in Australian coal is a losing proposition in the medium to long term and that diversification is critical,”

said Roy Green, the incoming chairman of Port of Newcastle.


Australia: Alleged North Korean agent arrested trying to broker coal sales with Vietnam and Indonesia in breach of UN sanctions.

India: Supreme Court directs the Indian Government and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence to respond by February 7 to coal and power plant tax scam allegations.

New Zealand: Prime Minister rules out new coal permits on conservation land, but leaves option open elsewhere.

Philippines: The exemption of local coal from tax increase law dismays environmental groups.

US: Trump Administration moves to review black lung control regulations protecting mineworkers.

“While we will continue to support our existing customers across the mining and energy sectors, including those with existing coal assets, NAB will no longer finance new thermal coal mining projects,”

stated the National Australia Bank, one of Australia’s largest banks.

Companies + Markets

European Union energy ministers propose more coal concessions: A draft European Union energy market policy negotiated by energy ministers proposes allowing capacity payments up to 2030 for coal plants emitting over 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. The Energy Council also adopted a target of a 27 per cent of renewable energy by 2030, far lower than the 45 per cent target required to meet the Paris Agreement advocated by environmental groups. In early 2018 the European Parliament will finalise its preferred position and then negotiate a final proposal with the Energy Council in mid-2018. (Platts, Climate Action Network Europe)

China launches carbon price for power sector: The Chinese Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme will initially apply to 1600 companies in the power sector which account for just over one-third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The scheme, which will take effect in about 2020, is proposed to have a target price of 200–300 yuan (US$30–45) per tonne for greenhouse gas emissions to encourage a rapid switch to cleaner energy sources. (Bloomberg, Euractiv)

IEA sees coal stagnation: The International Energy Agency (IEA) latest review of the global coal industry calculates coal consumption fell by 1.9 per cent in 2016 and estimates demand will stagnate until 2022. The IEA continues to project substantial coal demand growth in the Asia-Pacific region, including in India. However, Greenpeace argues that the IEA is massively underestimating the competitiveness of renewables in India and overestimating future coal growth. Greenpeace also notes that while 31,000 MW of coal plants are slated for retirement between 2018 and 2022, the IEA assumes only 18,000 MW will be closed, possibly failing to account for 12,000 MW of closures announced this year. (Carbon Brief,  Greenpeace India)

Newcastle Port unveils diversification plan: The incoming Chairman of the Port of Newcastle, Professor Roy Green, has warned of an “urgent need” to diversify the Hunter Valley economy and the port's business” away from an overreliance on thermal coal. Newcastle Port exported over 160 million tonnes of coal last year and is the world’s largest export port. Despite sustained community opposition, in late 2015 the port gained approval for the construction of a fourth coal export terminal, a project that stalled as global coal demand fell. (Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald)

Downer dumps Adani mine contract; Hancock renews Galilee interest: Downer EDI’s contract with Adani Australia to build the Carmichael coal mine, estimated to be worth up to A$2 (US$1.5) billion, has been terminated. Downer EDI stated that in the aftermath of the Queensland Government’s decision to veto a loan for a railway from the mine to the Abbot Point port, Adani had decided to build the mine as an owner-operator. While Adani’s project is looking less likely, Hancock Prospecting is lobbying to revive plans for the development of three mines in the Galilee Basin in conjunction with the Indian company GVK. This would rely on a new railway built by Aurizon on a different route. The Queensland Government has not ruled out support for a loan for Aurizon’s rail plan. (Guardian, Saturday Paper)

UK Government looks to make divestment easier for pension funds: The UK Government is proposing to introduce new investment regulations to make it easier for pension funds to divest from companies to “mirror members’ ethical concerns” and “address environmental problems”. Currently UK pension funds, which have £2 (US$2.7) trillion invested, are obliged to invest to achieve the best financial return. The proposed changes are about to be put out for public comment and are likely to come into effect in 2018. (Guardian)

South Korea boosts renewables but retreats on coal commitments: The latest draft of South Korea’s electricity supply plan to 2031 proposes to expand renewable capacity — mostly from solar and wind power — by 47,200 MW. However, of the nine proposed coal plants, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy flagged that only two would be converted to LNG compared to the four initially promised by the new government. The ministry is proposing coal plant capacity would grow by 3100 MW but with 2800 MW of old coal plants closed. The proposed plan is subject to a public hearing on December 26. (South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, PV Tech)


Low Emissions Technologies for Fossil Fuels, Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), December 2017.

This 60-page ANAO review found that the Australian Government has spent over A$450 (US$345) million on a range of Carbon Capture and Storage projects but none have resulted in the storage of any carbon dioxide.

Coal 2017: Analysis and Forecasts to 2022, IEA, December 2017. (This report costs €80 for a Pdf version. The Executive summary is here and the media release is here.) 

This 148-page IEA report reviews key trends in global coal production and consumption in 2016. However, despite forecasting demand remaining almost flat to 2022, the IEA continues to underestimate the impact of renewables and committed coal plant closures on future demand.

BHP: Industry association review, BHP, December 2017. (Pdf)

This 26-page review details how BHP, one of the world’s largest coal exporters and mining companies, assessed the compatibility of its climate policy with the advocacy activities of a range of industry associations it belongs to, including the World Coal Association.