October 29, 2020
Issue 345  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, has provided a few pointers on how he envisages the country reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 but falls well short of providing a detailed roadmap. He suggested there could be a reduced role for coal generation and “carbon recycling,” seemingly new jargon for carbon capture and reuse. South Korea has also announced it too will be carbon neutral by 2050. Meanwhile senior Chinese officials met to discuss how to implement President Xi Jinping’s “carbon neutral by 2060” pledge.

If all three countries do act to curb at least domestic coal generation, it will lead to a dramatic reshaping of the global coal market. In a further indication of the shift away from coal, the Philippines Minister for Energy has announced a moratorium on new greenfield coal plants.

As encouraging as these shifts are, the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook estimates limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees will require coal generation to decline by 10 per cent a year, far faster than the two per cent a year assumed in its core scenario. In the US and European power sectors change is coming fast. In the US, the collapse of coal production from the Powder River Basin has caught politicians, companies and communities off-guard. A study on US coal plants facing water stress points to one upside of coal plant closures: freeing up large volumes of water for other uses or environmental flows.

Bob Burton


South Korea’s move away from coal leaves a Philippine power plant in limbo

NGO groups in the Philippines have welcomed the decision by the South Korean utility KEPCO that it will not proceed with the proposed Sual 2 coal plant, states Mongabay.

Is it past the point of no return for Powder River Basin coal?

Coal production from the Powder River Basin in the US is on track to be half of the 2009 tally and account for only about 17 per cent of US power generation, writes Greg Johnson in the Gillette News Record.

Top News

Japanese PM talks up carbon neutral goal but remains vague on details: In his first speech in parliament since being elected as Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, said he would “fundamentally change Japan’s long-term reliance on coal-fired energy” as the country moved to be carbon neutral by 2050. Suga explicitly backed two policies long favoured by the government and industry lobby groups: increased nuclear generation and what he dubbed as “carbon recycling”, believed to be a reference to carbon capture and reuse. However, Suga provided no additional detail on a new renewables target or an end to Japanese subsidies for international coal plants. (Climate Change News, Renewable Energy Institute)

South Korea unveils 2050 carbon neutrality target: In a speech to the National Assembly, President Moon Jae-in said South Korea would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. “We will create new markets and industries and create jobs by replacing coal power generation with renewable energy,” he said. Jae-in’s comments follow a video interview in which Swedish climate advocate Greta Thunberg said “I heard that President Moon Jae-in respects what I do. If so, prove it. Actions are far more meaningful than words.” South Korea is under growing domestic and international pressure to end support for international coal plants and phase out its 24 operating coal plants. A further four new plants are currently under construction. Joojin Kim from the South Korean NGO Solutions for Our Climate said the “most urgent tasks are enhancing its 2030 emissions reduction target, presenting a clear road map to phase out coal by 2030 and putting a complete stop to coal financing.” (The Hankyoreh [Korean], Financial Times)

Chinese officials consider paths for Xi’s carbon neutrality pledge: A high-level government meeting was expected to review options on how to incorporate President Xi Jinping’s 2060 “carbon neutral” goal into China’s 24th Five Year Plan for 2021–2025. The head of the Energy Foundation China, Zou Ji, said achieving the carbon neutrality target would require an end to the financing and construction of the 300,000 megawatts (MW) of coal plants that have been proposed. Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy, said coal power in China would have to halve by 2050 and solar, wind and storage capacities increase by 11 times over the same period. Since Xi’s September 22 speech the value of shares of Chinese wind turbine manufacturer Xinjiang Goldwind have increased by 46 per cent. Other solar and wind companies have also seen share values surge on the expectation of very strong demand for renewable generation. (Reuters, Financial Times)

Philippines announces moratorium on new greenfield coal plants: The Philippines Secretary of Energy, Alfonso Cusi, has announced a moratorium “on endorsements for greenfield coal power plants.” However, this does not affect proposals that have already been granted permits or are potential expansions on the sites of existing plants. In a speech to a business conference, Cusi emphasised the need to focus on domestic energy sources. New coal plants in the Philippines are heavily reliant on coal imports. “We are also pushing for the transition from fossil fuel-based technology utilization to cleaner energy sources to ensure more sustainable growth for the country,” Cusi said. In July 2020 the Global Coal Plant Tracker estimated that 7370 MW of coal plants have been announced or are in the pre-permit phase. Of these 2605 MW are greenfield coal plants which could be directly affected by the new policy. (Rappler, Climate Home News, Philippines Department of Energy, Global Coal Plant Tracker)

Coal-belt community opposes Queensland coal plan of US insurance giant: A community survey has found 97 per cent of respondents oppose a plan by US insurance giant Liberty Mutual to develop the Baralaba South mine project. The mine is proposed to be built on a floodplain with half of it overlapping an area designated by the Queensland Government as strategic cropping land. Landowners fear the mine, which proposes to produce up to 3.5 million tonnes of coal a year for 40 years, would pollute local waterways. To avoid the mine site flooding — as it did in late 2012 — the company has proposed a levee bank to divert water around the pit. However, landowners argue that would increase the impacts of a flood on other landowners. (ABC News)

US coal plants facing increasing water stress: An analysis of S&P Global Market Intelligence and World Resources Institute data indicates about 98,200 MW of coal plant capacity in the US is likely to face medium-high to extremely high water stress by the end of the decade. Plants in just five states — Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming and Michigan — operate about 37,100 MW in areas projected to face medium-high to extremely high water stress. Joe Smyth from the Energy Policy Institute said water scarcity may be another factor that could push coal pants to close. Earlier this year the CEO of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association noted that its plan to close coal plants in Colorado and New Mexico created a significant opportunity for other industries due to  reduced demand on water supplies. (S & P Global)

South African coal mine activist assassinated: Fikile Ntshangase, who was a leading opponent of a proposed expansion of a coal mine at Somkele operated by Tendele Coal Mining, was gunned down in her home on October 22. Ntshangase was active in the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, which has filed a legal action against Tendele Coal Mining’s proposal and is scheduled for a hearing on November 3, 2020. Opponents of the mine expansion have been subject to a campaign of harassment which has intensified recently. Ntshangase was one of 19 landholders refusing to move to make way for the expansion of the mine. (Guardian, GroundUp, groundWork)

Teenagers sue Australian Government over Adani impact on Great Barrier Reef: Two North Queensland teenagers, Brooklyn O’Hearn and Claire Galvin, have submitted expert evidence to Federal Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, requesting she revoke the approval for Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine and railway. The mine was approved by Ley’s predecessor. The three expert reports argue the approval would result in substantial cumulative impacts from the development of three coal mines and would jeopardise the future of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The legal action comes as the Stop Adani movement is targeting the insurance giant Lloyd’s of London, which has confirmed that some of its members companies have been insuring Adani. Lloyd’s has refused to disclose which member companies are providing coverage for Adani or to institute a policy ruling out support for the controversial company. (ABC, Environment Justice Australia, Insurance Business Australia)

Former Indian Minister for Coal sentenced to three years gaol: Dilip Ray, who was the Minister for Coal in 1999, has been sentenced to three years in gaol over his decision to allocate the Brahmadiha coal block in Jharkhand to Castron Technologies. Special Judge Bharat Parashar said Ray “abused his official position” as his decision to grant the block to Castron Technologies over another more qualified bidder “amounts to gross abuse of his powers.” Three-year prison sentences were also handed down to two ministry officials and a director of Castron Technologies, Mahendra Kumar Agarwalla. Ray’s sentence was suspended after he filed an appeal with the Delhi High Court. Bail has also been granted to the other three convicted in the case as they indicated they too would appeal against their conviction. (Indian Express, TimesNowNews)

Investigators find 135 Eskom staff doing business with the utility: The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), a South African Government anti-corruption agency, told the South African Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts that it found 135 Eskom officials are doing business with the utility with contracts valued at over 6 billion rand (US$371 million). Committee members were told 39 cases have been referred to the National Prosecuting Authority and a further 32 cases to the Asset Forfeiture Unit. SIU investigations include the Tegeta Resources coal supply agreement for the Optimum Coal Mine and 21 contracts associated with the Kusile coal plant and five associated with the Medupi plant. (Biz News)


Cambodia: The Council for the Development of Cambodia has approved an investment certificate for Oddormeanchey Power’s proposed 265 MW coal plant in Trapaing Prasat district.

Canada: Public federal–state hearing on the Grassy Mountain coal project proposed by the Australian-headquartered Riversdale Resources.

Colombia: Union–company negotiations resume after over 52 days of strike action at the Cerrejon mine.

Mongolia: Coal exports increase on the back of China’s ban on Australian imports.

Pakistan: Government considers ban on new plants that rely on imported gas and coal.

UK: Banks Mining decides against appealing the government’s rejection of its Druridge Bay coal mine proposal.

US: Coal baron Bob Murray, a backer of Donald Trump and advocate of mining deregulation, has died from black lung disease.

US: Committee hearings on the repeal of the Ohio coal and nuclear plant bailout law have been suspended.

US: Federal judge rejects a bid by the University of North Carolina to avoid a lawsuit alleging its Chapel Hill coal plant burned more coal than permitted.

“The coal resource we have here in Wyoming and the Powder River Basin is so vast and so valuable, in my opinion, it would’ve been unthinkable to predict we’d be where we are 10 years down the line,”

said Travis Deti, Executive Director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

Companies + Markets

Bloomberg New Energy Finance says coal peaked in 2018: In its Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2020 report the consultancy (BNEF) estimates that to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees emissions need to fall by 10 per cent a year. It argues coal power generation peaked in 2018 and in its core scenario will decline to just 12 per cent of generation by 2050. BNEF estimates coal use will peak in China in 2027 and in India in 2030. In the BNEF climate scenario, coal in the power sector is largely eliminated by 2045 with the bulk of generation from renewables supplemented by hydrogen generation. (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Samsung construction subsidiary swears off more coal plants: Samsung C&T, the construction subsidiary of the South Korean electronics company Samsung, has announced it will not be involved in further coal-related business. Samsung’s commodities trading unit will also cease coal trading. The announcement comes as international investors are stepping up pressure on KEPCO, Samsung and other companies to withdraw from the proposed 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 coal plant in Vietnam. (Yonhap News Agency)

Major US coal producer looks to life beyond thermal coal: Arch Resources plans to slash thermal coal production from its Powder River Basin mines in Wyoming as part of “systematic winding down of our thermal operations.” It said it aimed “to harvest cash and to fund long-term closure costs with ongoing operating cash flows” in the event it is unable to sell its thermal coal mines. Arch Coal, as it was known before its recent bankruptcy, produced nearly 75 million US short tons (68 million tonnes) of coal in 2019. The company estimates it will cut production to 55 million short tons (50 million tonnes) in 2020 and by a further 50 per cent by 2023. The company plans to concentrate on producing metallurgical coal. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Eskom moves to tap green funding: Eskom CEO, Andre de Ruyter, has flagged that the utility is seeking financial advisers with expertise in attracting green finance to help fund its expansion into renewables while seeking to continue operating its fleet of coal plants “for an extended period of time.” In 2017 Meridian Economic proposed scrapping Eskom’s plans to complete two new units at Kusile coal plants and instead close Eskom’s old coal plants and expand renewable generation as required. Eskom is struggling under debt of 488 billion rand (US$30 billion) with annual interest payments of about 30 billion rand (US$1.9 billion). Eskom is also confronting the high costs of unreliable coal plants and the need to shut the Komati, Hendrina and Grootvlei plants. (Mining Weekly)

South African President pushes fast-tracking mining projects: President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised in his Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan that “time-frames for mining, prospecting, water and environmental licences will be reduced by at least 50 per cent.” However, the South African coal export industry is facing significant challenges as Australian and Indonesian coal pushed out of the Chinese coal market has resulted in lower seaborne thermal coal prices. India, a major customer for South African thermal coal, is turning to increased domestic sourcing. Reduced Colombian exports, due to mines shuttered because of low prices and a strike at the Cerrejon mine, has resulted in increased Turkish demand for South African coal. (Business Insider South Africa, Daily Maverick, Argus)

IFC challenged over Indonesian coal plant lending: In 2019 the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) piloted its green equity policy with the Indonesian bank, Hana Indonesia. The IFC’s Green Equity Approach was specifically designed to encourage equity clients, such as in Indonesia, to shift their lending away from supporting coal projects. However, Hana Indonesia has since approved project finance to the 2000 MW Java coal plant. A spokesperson for the IFC said “we are in discussion with PT Bank KEB Hana Indonesia to better understand its recent lending activities.” (Climate Home)

Indonesian President demands more coal conversion plants: Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo, has ordered his ministers to develop a target for coal-to-oil and gas projects and reduced exports. “We have been exporting raw coal for too long,” Widodo complained. The passage of the controversial Job Creation Law, which cuts royalties for coal processing plants, has been welcomed by the Indonesia Coal Miners Association but opposed by civil society groups. While analysts doubt the economics of coal-to-gas plants, Widodo is pushing to substitute dimethyl ether from coal processing plants for imported and expensive liquefied petroleum gas. (Reuters)


“Chinese Overseas Development Financing of Electric Power Generation: A Comparative Analysis”, One Earth, October 23, 2020.

This journal article reviews Chinese financing of overseas power projects and finds them to be the largest funders of coal power globally.

China’s Global Power Database, Global Development Policy Center, Boston University, October 2020.

This interactive database tracks all power plants financed by Chinese foreign direct investment and/or the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China.

“Jokowi’s 35000 megawatt dream”, Inside Indonesia, October–December 2020.

This article provides a good historical overview of Indonesia’s huge plans for power projects since the 1970s and President Jokowi’s recent push for 11,000 MW of new coal plants by the end of 2019.