December 2, 2021
Issue 396  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

A new study estimates that slashing pollution from coal plants, either by early closure or by installing pollution control equipment, could save millions of lives by 2050. In South Korea, the government has announced between eight and sixteen coal plants will be closed for the duration of the winter heating season to cut fine particle air pollution. In Colombia, the leading candidate for next year’s presidential election campaign has told a mining industry conference that most of the country’s coal will need to stay in the ground to meet the 1.5 degrees Paris Agreement target. The aim of Germany’s new coalition government to end coal generation by 2030 will increase pressure on remaining laggards in the European Union. A new report estimates that on current plans Poland, Czechia and Bulgaria would be responsible for over 95 per cent of the European Union’s remaining coal generation after Germany’s plants close.

One key step towards the Paris Agreement goal is to cut methane emissions, especially from coal mines. In China, the environmental ministry has stated it plans to release its methane emissions control plan next year. On the other hand, Australia is refusing to join the international coalition committed to reducing methane emissions. Why? New data has revealed huge methane emissions from coal mines in Queensland and suggests the national inventory may be based on significant underestimates.

Bob Burton


Phasing coal out makes economic sense, too

India can start phasing down its coal power fleet over the next decade because it makes sound economic sense, writes Ashish Fernandes from Climate Risk Horizons in The Hindu.

India’s coal crisis produced twin glaring conclusions – coal is expensive and unreliable

India’s recent power crisis revealed that coal is an unreliable source of electricity generation because it depends heavily on a long supply chain, writes Vibhuti Garg from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

What happens when America’s coal plants die?

As US coal plants close, communities are grappling with diversifying their economic base and utilities look to repurpose plant sites for new energy projects or other uses, writes Matt Krupnick in the Guardian.


Netherlands pays for closure of Rotterdam coal plant

The Dutch Government has agreed to pay €212.5 million (US$241.8 million) to Onyx Power to close the 800 megawatt (MW) Maasvlakte coal plant in Rotterdam which was first commissioned in 2015. As part of the deal, Onyx Power must fund a package of measures to support the affected employees, close the plant within two months and demolish the plant within three years. The closure of the plant follows an October 2018 ruling by the Hague Court of Appeal that the government must cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of 2020. Following the passage of legislation banning the use of coal power after 2029 Riverstone Holdings, the US-based private equity firm that owns Onyx Power, applied for €238 million (US$269.6 million) in compensation to close the plant. The owners of the other three coal plants in the Netherlands, Uniper and RWE, are challenging the legal validity of the legislation which does not mandate the payment of compensation for the closure of the plants. (Reuters, Nos [Dutch], Global Energy Monitor)

Top News

Study estimates curbs on coal power could save millions of lives: A study published in Nature Climate Change estimates millions of lives could be saved by 2050 with the combination of the retirement of super-polluting coal plants and the installation of pollution controls on other power stations. The study estimates coal plants account for 26 per cent of the world’s generation capacity but cause 80 per cent of air pollution deaths. The researchers report that about 92 per cent of deaths caused by power sector air pollution between 2010 and 2018 occurred in low-income countries including China, India and Southeast Asian countries. (RenewEconomy, Nature Climate Change)

Colombian presidential candidate wants most coal left in the ground: The leading candidate in the May 2022 presidential election, Gustavo Petro, has backed calls to leave much of Colombia’s coal in the ground. Petro, a former left-wing mayor of Bogota, recently told a mining industry conference that Colombia “needs to leave 80pc of its coal reserves grounded if it wants to fulfil the global pledge to keep warming below 1.5°C.” Colombia is currently the world’s fifth-largest thermal coal exporter with Glencore the largest producer. The conservative Centro Democratico party supports the continuation of coal production. (Argus)

Germany’s coal phase-out will isolate European stragglers: A report by Ember, a climate think tank, predicts the agreement by coalition partners in the new German Government to aim to phase out coal power by 2030 would leave Poland, Czechia and Bulgaria responsible for over 95 per cent of the European Union’s (EU) coal generation. The report estimates that on current plans Poland alone will be responsible for 65 per cent of the remaining EU coal generation in 2030. The three countries are proposing to reduce coal generation by 42 per cent between 2015 and 2030 compared to a 99 per cent reduction by other EU countries. (Ember)

Satellite data reveals Glencore mine as a super methane-emitter: Using satellite data from the European Space Agency, researchers estimate six mines in Queensland emitted 570,000 tonnes of methane a year in 2018 and 2019. In a paper published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Space Research estimate the mines in the Bowen Basin produced only seven per cent of Australian coal production but accounted for 55 per cent of estimated methane emissions. They suggest emissions are underestimated in the national inventory. The study found Glencore’s Hail Creek coal mine in Queensland released 230,000 tonnes of methane each year in 2018 and 2019, 20 per cent of the estimated emissions from coal mining, while accounting for only one per cent of national coal production. The other five mines are owned by BHP, Anglo American and a joint venture of BHP and Mitsubishi. The Australian Government has refused to join with other countries in committing to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. (Bloomberg, Environmental Science & Technology [Abstract])

China commits to publishing methane reduction plan in 2022: China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment has committed to the development of a methane emissions control action plan in 2022 which will include the coal mining sector. The most recent official data on methane emissions dates back to 2014 at which time the coal mining and the oil and gas sector accounted for 10.4 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions and 45 per cent of all methane emissions. Ahead of the COP26 conference the International Energy Agency (IEA) set a goal of cutting methane emissions from fossil fuel operations by 75 per cent by 2030 with most of the reduction flowing from reduced coal power generation and increased renewables capacity. The IEA estimates Chinese coal mines account for about 22 million tonnes of methane emissions a year with a potential reduction of 10 million tonnes by 2030. (Reuters, International Energy Agency [Pdf])

Canadian provinces campaigned to undermine mine pollution limits: An internal document has revealed four Canadian provinces – British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia – sought to coordinate their strategy to weaken proposed federal regulations seeking to reduce the impact of polluted wastewater from coal mines on fish and fish habitat. Final regulations were initially expected to be published in 2020 but are now not expected until 2023 after a further round of public consultation has been completed. The environmental law non-profit, Ecojustice, said the draft standards have been watered down to benefit industry and would allow existing mines years more to continue polluting and new projects to start with weak standards. (The Narwhal)

Australian intelligence agency warned of risk to coal exports … in 1981: Forty years ago the Australian Government’s Office of National Assessments advised Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser that scientists agreed continued burning of fossil fuels would lead to a “measurably warmer” atmosphere leading to “climatic changes”. The report, which was written in 1981, warned “Australia could well find its export market particularly vulnerable to international policies aimed at limiting the use of coal.” In 1980 Australia exported just 42 million tonnes of coal compared to the 363 million tonnes sold on the seaborne market in 2020–21. (Guardian)

Guarantee for Bosnia and Herzegovina plant ruled as illegal support: The Ministerial Council of the Energy Community has ruled Bosnia and Herzegovina’s provision of a government guarantee for China Eximbank’s €614 million (US$696 million) loan for the Tuzla 7 lignite plant is illegal. Under the terms of the Energy Community Treaty member countries, which include Bosnia and Herzegovina, are obliged to comply with common standards including about the provision of state aid which could distort the energy market. The 450 MW project has been dogged by setbacks ever since it was proposed in 2011, most recently with General Electric withdrawing from the project in June 2021. (Bankwatch)


Australia: Activist released pending appeal against a one-year gaol sentence for coal train protest.

Australia: AGL responds to ailing performance by offering redundancies at three coal plants.

Russia: Forty-six miners and five rescuers died in an accident at SDS-Ugol’s Listvyazhnaya mine in Siberia.

Russia: Russian Railways restricts coal shipments to the port of Vanino as frozen coal in rail wagons can’t be unloaded.

South Africa: Municipalities to be allowed to purchase electricity from independent renewables power producers.

Companies + Markets

Adani dumped from climate indexes: MSCI, a global financial advisory firm, has announced Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone will be excluded from its four climate indices on December 1 after determining the company’s links to its development of the Carmichael thermal coal mine in Australia were “severe”, the second-lowest possible rating. Adani Ports set up the Bowen Rail Company in 2019 to transport coal from the mine to the Abbott Point Coal Terminal which it operates. In January 2021 Adani Ports announced it would transfer the ownership of the railway company to Adani Enterprises in a bid to allow it to claim it was carbon neutral. Market Forces has welcomed the announcement but noted BlackRock, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Citi, DBS, Standard Chartered and JP Morgan have ruled out support for the Carmichael coal project but still finance other Adani Group companies. Before the announcement, Adani Ports had already been classified as “a laggard” among the 26 companies in MSCI’s transportation infrastructure industry category. (Fortune India, Market Forces)

South Korea says at least eight coal plants will be curtained for winter: South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has announced between eight and 16 coal plants will be closed between December 1 and February 28 in a bid to reduce fine particle air pollution over winter. Generation at the remainder of South Korea’s 52 coal plants will be capped at 80 per cent of capacity for the period. The ministry said the closures could cut fine particle air pollution by up to 52.5 per cent but declined to specify which plants would be affected. (S & P Global)

China’s emissions decline tracks construction slump: The latest Chinese government data indicates greenhouse gas emissions fell by 0.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, with preliminary data suggesting the rate is accelerating in October. In the first half of 2021 carbon dioxide emissions rose by nine per cent compared to 2020 levels as construction and heavy industrial sectors rebounded after COVID-19 restrictions eased. The decline is attributed to the slump in the real estate sector undercutting demand for construction materials, and high coal prices leading to reduced industrial production. The shift comes as the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis notes China is promoting increased electric arc furnace production which uses scrap steel and bypasses reliance on coking coal as well as having lower carbon emissions than conventional blast furnaces. (Carbon Brief, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)

Whitehaven Coal cops A$200,000 fine for massive water theft: A subsidiary of Whitehaven Coal has been fined A$200,000 (US$143,000) for unlawfully taking and storing 1000 megalitres of water over three years to June 30, 2019 at its controversial Maules Creek mine in New South Wales. The maximum fine that could have been applied is A$1.1 million (US$780,000). The judge in the Land and Environment Court also ordered Whitehaven Coal to pay A$412,845 (US$294,000) towards the costs of the prosecution. Lock the Gate said the fine hardly reflected the seriousness of the company taking a billion litres of water without a licence at a time of extreme drought when farmers lost crops and stock died from lack of water. “This water, at this time was priceless, and would have been a lifesaver for lots of farms and businesses,” said Sally Hunter, a local farmer. (Guardian, Lock the Gate, NSW Land and Environment Court)

Enel dismisses CCS for coal plants: The CEO of the global energy firm Enel, Francesco Starace, said carbon capture and storage “doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked for us so far” for the electricity industry. “And there is a rule of thumb here: If a technology doesn’t really pick up in five years — and here we’re talking about more than five, we’re talking about 15, at least — you better drop it.” Starace’s comments came as Enel announced it would boost investments in renewables, exit from coal and gas generation by 2027 and 2040 respectively. (CNBC)

Labour and rail constraints crimp US coal export capacity: US coking coal exporters told a recent industry conference that their ability to respond to the high global prices has been hampered by a combination of labour shortage and rail capacity constraints. The US is often regarded as a swing producer, increasing exports when prices are high and demand is strong and cutting back production when the market softens. The rebound in the US economy has also meant strong competition to attract staff with one company anonymously complaining it was struggling to staff its existing mines and had been increasing wages to prevent staff from being poached by other mining companies. “If we get a class of 20 beginners in, five might stay to complete their training, and one might stay in the long term,” the company official said. (Argus)

US coal plant retirement brought forward: Xcel Energy has agreed to bring forward the closure of its 857 MW Comanche 3 coal plant in Colorado to 2035 as part of a settlement on its latest power plan. The plant was previously proposed to close in 2040 but has suffered 700 days of unplanned shutdowns since it was commissioned in 2010. Under the settlement, which was opposed by environmental groups, Xcel would cut the Comanche 3 until to 60 per cent of capacity in 2025, 50 per cent in 2027 and 33 per cent in 2029. The Sierra Club sought to have the plant close by 2027 and the power development exclude the construction of further gas power projects. (Colorado Sun)


“Location-specific co-benefits of carbon emissions reduction from coal-fired power plants in China”, Nature Communications, November 29, 2021.

This paper sets out to identify the provinces within China where the benefits for cutting pollution from coal generation provide the greatest benefit.