December 17, 2020
Issue 352  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The International Energy Agency estimates that coal generation fell significantly this year in large part due to the economic shockwaves caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they forecast a rebound next year. They also note the brief public experience of cleaner air, combined with the reality that renewables are becoming the new mainstay of power generation and may have permanently changed the perception that reliance on coal is the only option. Another factor is the proliferation of beyond-coal role models such as Greece, where a few years ago the idea of a rapid end to coal generation would have been fanciful.

As the year draws to a close, there has been a flurry of announcements by banks and pension funds – such as South Korea’s Woori Financial Group and the Philippines Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation – declaring new restrictions on coal. The Swedish pension fund AP7 has dumped the stocks of 10 mining and power companies because of their plans to increase their reliance on coal. Pakistan has ruled out at least some, and perhaps all, new coal plants. In the UK, a council is under huge pressure to reject a proposed new coal mine. In the Netherlands, the government is considering a compensation bid to shut down a near-new coal plant.

Perhaps one of the most surprising elements of 2020 has been the dramatic increase in interest in decarbonising the steel sector, the largest consumer of metallurgical coal. With metallurgical coal accounting for about 10 per cent of annual production, the prospect that hydrogen produced by renewables could become a cost effective alternative to conventional blast furnace production of steel is attracting a lot of attention from some major industry producers.

CoalWire will take a short break and return early in 2021. Thank you for reading CoalWire this year, stay safe and best wishes for the New Year.

Bob Burton


Greece looks past coal

Long considered a climate laggard, Greece is set to end coal generation by 2028, a decade ahead of Germany, writes Heather O’Brian in Energy Monitor.

The end of coal? Why investors aren't buying the myth of the industry's 'renaissance'

The near identical decline in the value of two Australian coal companies since 2018 – one producing metallurgical coal and the other thermal coal – is evidence investors don’t see a long term future for either product, write Ben Smee and Ben Butler in the Guardian.

As South Africa clings to coal, a struggle for the right to breathe

A lawsuit aimed at enforcing pollution control standards at Eskom and other industrial plants in the Highveld plateau could play a pivotal role in reducing health impacts of coal plants in South Africa, writes Chloe Williams in YaleEnvironment360.

Top News

Global coal generation set to fall by five per cent in 2020: The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates global coal generation will fall by five per cent in 2020 with the economic shock of COVID-19 leading to a two per cent decline in electricity demand. The IEA estimates renewable generation will grow by 7 per cent in 2020, with strong growth projected to continue in 2021. However, the IEA predicts coal generation may rebound in 2021, increasing by three per cent. (S & P Global, International Energy Agency)

Pakistan rules out new coal plants, details to follow: Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, told the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit his government would not approve new coal power projects. He said the country’s domestic lignite resources would be used for coal-to-oil or coal-to-gas projects and that by 2030, 60 per cent of the country’s electricity would be from renewables. It is unclear whether this means coal projects already approved but not yet under construction will be cancelled or only that no new projects will be approved. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis notes it appears the 27,000 megawatts (MW) of coal plants proposed to be built between 2030 and 2047 based on domestic coal have been scrapped. (, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, Pakistan Government)

UK proposes bring coal exit forward to 2024: The UK Government has proposed bringing forward the ban on coal power generation by a year with the proposed date set at October 1, 2024. UK coal generation has plummeted from 39 per cent in 2012 to less than 3 per cent in 2019. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy estimates the advanced end date for coal generation would affect 1300 MW of capacity. As the change would require a legislative amendment the government has released a consultation paper with submissions due by February 26, 2021. (Reuters, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy)

Council staff recommends rejection of UK coal mining proposal: A report by council planners has recommended that Newcastle City Council’s planning committee reject Banks Mining’s proposed Dewley Hill open-cut coal mine. A report by the planners states the project will have “considerable adverse impact to the character and appearance of the area, and moderate harm to biodiversity” and “would represent inappropriate development in the Tyne and Wear Green Belt.” The company has proposed to mine 800,000 tonnes of coal over three-and-a-half years. The project has triggered strong community opposition with over 5000 letters and a petition of almost 19,000 people objecting to the plan. The council committee will meet to discuss the proposal on December 18. (The Northern Echo, Newcastle City Council [Pdf])

Netherlands reviewing compensation bid for coal plant closure: The Dutch Ministry of Energy is considering a bid by Onyx Power for €238 million (US$289 million) compensation to close its 731 MW Maasvlakte coal plant. In response to a December 2019 Supreme Court ruling requiring the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by the end of 2020, the government proposed restricting the country’s three coal plants to operate at only 35 per cent of capacity and solicited bids for closure of one of the plants. A spokesperson for the ministry said Onyx Power’s bid is being reviewed to assess whether it meets the government’s requirements including adequate provision for employees. (Enerdata, Montel)

Report estimates Philippines coal plants could kill over 7000 people: A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) estimates the current 10,000 MW of coal plants in the Philippines could cause 7000 premature deaths over the next decade unless air pollution standards are improved. The report estimates that if the 9000 MW of proposed coal plants are built the annual death toll from air pollution would increase from about 630 premature deaths a year to 1000 a year. The new plants alone, CREA estimates, would result in almost 26,300 premature deaths over the 40-year lifespan of the plants costing the economy an estimated 370 billion pesos (US$ 7.2 billion). (ABC-CBN, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air)

Report reveals European coal producers undercharged on water: The European Environmental Bureau estimates lignite mining companies and power producers in the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany are being undercharged by an estimated €54 million (US$66 million) a year on fees required under the European Union’s Water Framework Directive. The directive is aimed at protecting and conserving water supplies. The report argues private citizens and other industrial users are forced to pay a per cubic metre charge for water while lignite companies are either charged nothing or at a very low rate. North Rhine-Westphalia is the only German state which charges lignite mining companies and power plants for water. (ENDS Europe, European Environment Bureau)

Two major Asian steelmakers announce 2050 net-zero target: Two of the world’s largest steel producers, Japan’s Nippon Steel and the South Korea’s POSCO, have announced support for becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Nippon Steel announced it will include its plans for hydrogen-based steel production and a switch from reliance on blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces in a business plan for the period to 2030. The plan will be released in March 2021. Electric arc furnaces relay on scrap steel and use a faction of the metallurgical coal traditional blast furnaces use. South Korean steel maker POSCO has also flagged a plan to be carbon neutral by 2050, including through the use of lower carbon fuels such as hydrogen, increased use of scrap metal and deployment of carbon capture and storage. (Nikkei Asia, EN24, POSCO [Korean])

“Lower electricity demand driven by the Covid-19 crisis, lower costs for renewables and low gas prices – as well as the reduction in air pollution that came with lower coal-based electricity generation in 2020 – have changed the perception in many countries that coal is the only way to have affordable, dispatchable and secure electricity,”

states the International Energy Agency in its Electricity Market Report.


Australia: Documents reveal the Australian Government’s Future Fund has invested A$3.2 million in shares in Adani Ports, a company criticised by the United Nations over links to the Myanmar military.

Australia: Whitehaven Coal pleads guilty on 19 charges with each offence carrying a maximum penalty of A$1.1 million (US$830,000).

Cambodia: The Council for the Development of Cambodia has approved the proposed 700 MW Koh Kong coal plant in Botum Sakor National Park.

Europe: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in discussions with government of Western Balkans region and Ukraine on financing a coal power phase-out.

India: The Ministry of Coal has reopened bidding on four coal blocks – three in Odisha and one in Jharkhand – which previously attracted only one bid.

South Africa: Technology company ABB to pay Eskom 1.56 billion rand (US$104 million) to settle case over illegal contract for work at the Kusile coal plant.

US: Six companies from China and Vietnam and four vessels have been blacklisted by the US Government for breaching UN sanctions on the sale of coal from North Korea.

US: Moody’s note the Basin Electric Power Cooperative is recording “sizable losses” on its coal gasification plant in North Dakota.

Companies + Markets

Swedish pension fund dumps 10 coal companies: AP7, a major Swedish public pension fund, has sold it holdings worth 273 million Swedish kronor (US$32 million) in 10 coal companies that continue to expand coal production or power generation. The companies include Coal India, the South African coal mining company Exxaro Resources, the South Korean power utility KEPCO, Indonesian coal producer PT Adaro Energy, and Washington H. Soul Pattinson, the Australian parent company of New Hope Corporation. (Pensions & Investments)

South Korean bank rules out support for more coal projects: The Woori Financial Group, one of Korea's four largest commercial banking groups, has ruled out project financing or bond investment for new coal power plants. A spokesperson said the company aimed to become carbon neutral by 2050 and end current financial support for coal projects on the maturity of existing loans. (Korea Times)

Philippines bank rules out new coal support: A major Philippines bank, the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), has become the fourth Southeast Asian bank to rule out support for new coal plants. The bank’s president and CEO, Eugene Acevedo said “no more coal. I’ll say that slowly: no more coal.” However, he indicated current loans for coal projects would be on the bank’s books “for some time” and flagged a role for gas projects as renewable generation increased. Aaron Pedrosa, a spokesperson for the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, welcomed the commitment to rule out support for new coal plants. Pedrosa said that RCBC’s announcement, combined with the Department of Energy’s announcement of a moratorium on new brownfield coal plants, “heralds the end of coal in the Philippines.” (Rappler, Re-course)

China confirms ban on Australian coal imports: The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top economic planner, told a meeting of the country’s ten largest power utilities that volume limits on coal imports have been lifted with the exception of shipments from Australia. Power utilities had been lobbying for the lifting of the cap on coal imports to allow access to cheaper supplies. The NDRC said power generators should not pay over 640 yuan (US$97.8) per tonne for imported thermal coal. The formalisation of the ban on Australian suppliers comes as diplomatic tensions between the countries increase. The Australian Government’s Office of Chief Economist estimates that Australia exported 31 million tonnes of thermal coal and 24 million tonnes of metallurgical coal to China in the first half of 2020. In 2019 China imported about 290 million tonnes of coal, three-quarters of which was thermal coal. (Global Times, ABC News)

Anglo American announces 2023 coal exit plan: The CEO of Anglo American, Mark Cutifani, has announced the company plans to exit from its one-third shareholding in the Cerrejon coal mine in Colombia by the end of 2022. Cerrejon is equally owned by Glencore, Anglo American and BHP, with reports the joint venture partners have the first rights to buy the stakes of any exiting member of the consortium. The company reports production at Cerrejon is forecast to be about 12 million tonnes in 2020, down from 27 million tonnes in 2019 due to the effect of a prolonged strike and collapsing European demand. The company stated that its planned divestment from its South African thermal coal mines will occur by May 2023. Anglo American aims to increase metallurgical coal production from 17 million tonnes in 2020 to 30 million tonnes in the long term. (Reuters, Anglo American [Pdf])

BlackRock unveils new guide on engaging with fossil fuel companies: BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager which manages about US$7.8 trillion in assets, has toughened its position on engagement with companies it has stakes in to improve their performance on climate policy. NGO groups have cautiously welcomed the change noting that, in a break with its previous position, the company has signalled it is willing to vote against the election of directors. It has also flagged it will seek further information on the lobbying and political spending of coal and other emissions-intensive companies, though it has previously failed to support shareholder resolutions proposing this. (Reuters, BlackRock’sBigProblem, BlackRock [Pdf])

Losses in Polish coal mining sector continue to grow: Poland’s Ministry of State Assets has reported that coal mining companies have run at a 3.67 billion zloty (US$1 billion) loss in the first 10 months of 2020, a dramatic increase from the 1.3 billion zloty (US$360 million) loss for the whole of 2019. Polish coal production has been hit by the impact of COVID-19 on electricity demand and coronavirus outbreaks in the mining workforce. (BNE Intellinews)


Air Quality & Health Impacts of Coal-Fired Power in the Philippines, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, December 2020. (Pdf)

This 42-page report assesses the health impact of air pollution from current and proposed coal plants in the Philippines.

"Banking on coal? Drivers of demand for Chinese overseas investments in coal in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Vietnam", Energy Research & Social Science, January 2020.

This paper investigates the factors driving the demand for financing for coal-fired power plants from China’s policy banks in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.