May 23, 2019
Issue 276  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Japanese banks, which have long been one of the major sources of financial support for new coal plants, are increasingly restricting finance for new coal plants. Over the last week Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Mizuho have both unveiled new policies that limit funding for new coal projects. Measures such as these are already having an impact. In Indonesia, a subsidiary of Adaro Energy has complained that its plans for building new coal plants are being frustrated by reduced availability of funding from Japanese and European banks.

Other companies are feeling pressure from the investment sector too. BHP, one of the world’s major coal exporters, said increasing “headwinds” are a reason why it is considering selling its two remaining thermal coal mines. One of BHP’s mines is the controversial Cerrejon thermal coal project in Colombia, a joint venture with Glencore and Anglo American. A document filed in bankruptcy proceedings by the US thermal coal producer Cloud Peak Energy has revealed that the company has been a funder of leading climate change denial groups despite earlier protestations to the contrary.

Other banks and governments are pretty much continuing with a business-as-usual approach. BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in coal companies, has been criticised for dragging its feet on divesting or pushing companies to exit coal. The US Environmental Protection Agency is engaging in denial of a different sort as it seeks to change the way the health impacts of allowing increased power plant pollution are counted with an eye to undercounting the real-world death toll. In the aftermath of the re-election of the pro-coal Australian Government, Adani is seeking to have the final approvals needed for its mine fast-tracked by the Queensland Government.

Bob Burton


Blackrock: world’s biggest coal investor accused of dragging feet on climate crisis

While BlackRock is among the top 10 shareholders in seven of the world’s 10 biggest coal producers, the company’s critics argue it is failing to use its voting power to ensure effective climate action, writes Jasper Jolly in The Guardian.

Ireland’s cornerstone role in marketing Colombian coal

On a recent visit to Ireland, Jakeline Romero Epiayu from Colombia argued coal from the Cerrejon coal mine, which is marketed by the Dublin-headquartered Coal Marketing Company, is having a devastating impact on local communities, writes Sorcha Pollack in the Irish Times.

India investing more money in solar power than coal for first time

For three years in a row India has seen greater total investments in renewables than in fossil fuels, writes Harry Cockburn in The Independent.

Top News

Cloud Peak revealed as funder of climate change denial groups: Documents filed by Cloud Peak Energy in its bankruptcy application have revealed the company funded the Washington DC-based Institute of Energy Research and the Montana Policy Institute, both of which dismiss climate change. Other groups funded by the coal company include the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts legislation for conservative politicians, Rick Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom, which has campaigned against the Sierra Club and other environmental groups and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity which opposes climate action. Other groups listed as creditors include coal industry lobby groups including the World Coal Association and the National Mining Association. The filings do not disclose the amount provided to the groups. In 2016 a spokesperson for Cloud Peak told the New York Times that the company “has never fought climate change — never fought it, never denied it or funded anyone who does.” (The Intercept, Cloud Peak Energy)

US EPA rejigs methodology to decrease death toll estimate from power plant rule changes: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revising the model used to estimate the health toll from changes to pollution levels set under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. In 2018 the EPA estimated that changes proposed by the Trump administration to the Clean Power Plan would cause an additional 1400 deaths a year. However, the EPA is proposing to exclude the estimated health impacts below the EPA’s 12 micrograms per cubic meter limit on PM2.5 fine particle pollution. This would substantially lower the estimated death toll from allowing increased pollution levels. The revised estimates are expected to be released in June when the proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule is made public. (New York Times)

Chinese environment agency reports local pollution data fabricated: Reports released by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment state that pollution inspectors have been presented with fake data by polluters. The agency reported that in one instance a thermal power company in Henan province used a wireless mouse to interfere with the sealed automatic monitoring system and deleted data on excessive emissions. The ministry also stated that six national observation stations in Linfen in Shanxi province had been interfered with over 100 times between April 2017 and March 2018. The ministry reports also revealed some city environmental protection bureaus, which are responsible for ensuring standards are met, have fabricated documents to cover up their lack of enforcement of pollution control standards. In other instances, regulators have been found to have been corrupt. New data also indicates that over the first four months of 2019, PM2.5 fine particle air pollution in northern China increased largely as a result of local officials relaxing limits on coal use and heavy industry. (South China Morning Post, South China Morning Post)

Eskom concedes it has no shutdown plans for old coal units: In response to a request from the Centre for Environmental Rights, Eskom has revealed that it has “no detailed shutdown or decommissioning plans” for six of its oldest and most polluting coal plants. The six plants—Hendrina, Grootvlei, Camden, Arnot, Komati and Kriel—have a combined capacity of about 10,542 megawatts (MW). Eskom also revealed that no funding has been allocated for decommissioning the plants. Eskom revealed in March that 11 units at the Hendrina, Grootvlei and Komati plants had been shut down though one is being reconsidered for reopening. (Fin24)

Adani’s Carmichael project bouyed by re-election of pro-coal Australian government: In the wake of the re-election of the pro-coal Liberal–National Party government, partly on the back of a strong anti-Labor vote in the Queensland seats the party had hoped to win, Adani has stepped up pressure for the final approvals of its proposed Carmichael coal mine. At a press conference at the Hay Point coal terminal, Queensland’s Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would direct Adani, the Department of Environment and Science and the Coordinator-General to meet to finalise the timetable for final decisions on the project. Palaszczuk also sought to highlight other coal projects in the state the government is seeking to facilitate. Adani Australia stated that it wants all remaining government approvals finalised within two weeks. However, Adani still does not have finance or insurance for the project. (Guardian, Queensland Government, Adani Australia)


Australia: Queensland environment department drops prosecution of Adani over coal wastewater pollution of Great Barrier Reef.

China: Construction of the 1837 km long Menghua railway, to carry 200 million tonnes of coal a year from Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi provinces, is set to be completed in October.

Germany: Coal power production fell by 19 per cent in the first quarter of 2019 as renewables surged.

South Africa: Environment group argues that records reveal the Minister of Environmental Affairs failed to properly consider climate impacts of proposed Thabametsi coal plant.

US: Alabama Power fined US$250,000 over arsenic and radium pollution from coal ash dam at Gadsden plant.

US: Jacobs Engineering lodges further appeal in case over health toll from coal ash dam clean-up.

US: California Public Utilities Commission refuses Southern California Edison request to bill customers US$1.4 million for cost of membership of an industry lobby group.

UK: Great Britain grid has run of over five days without any coal generation.

Companies + Markets

Japanese banks restrict new coal financing: Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) has committed to excluding new coal power projects from financing after July 1. However, the revised policy provides for potential exemptions for projects in unspecified countries or for ‘high-efficiency’ plants or projects with carbon capture and storage. MUFG stated that it would “take a cautious approach” to projects currently under consideration and “gradually reduce” the bank’s exposure to coal over the medium to long term but did not set any end dates. The new policy also allows for continued financing of new thermal coal mines but excludes mountaintop mining projects from being financed. Mizuho Financial Group has also reportedly tightened its policy to limit lending to ‘high-efficiency’ plants. (Reuters, MUFG, Nikkei [Japanese])

Indonesian coal miner and power plant developer finding funding harder: The major Indonesian coal mining company, PT Adaro Energy, has complained that “it’s hard for us” to gain financing for coal plants it wants to build in Asia as global financial institutions move away from supporting new coal projects. Dharma Djojonegoro, the vice president of PT Adaro Power, an Adaro Energy subsidiary, said the company now faced the options of either seeking funding in China or shifting its focus to “play in the renewable energy sector with a solar power plant or gas-fired power plant.” He said South Korea was another option for raising funds but that Japanese and European banks had ruled out further coal projects. (Jakarta Post)

Study highlights threat to jobs and regional economies from mining automation: A study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development has highlighted that automation in mining, particularly in large open cut mines in the more expensive high-income countries, could dramatically reduce the number of people employed and undermine mining companies ‘social licence’. The study highlights that automation will dramatically reduce jobs in areas such as drilling, blasting, truck and train driving, which often comprise over 70 per cent of employment in mines. While there has been little research into the effect of automation on mining employment, estimates range between a 30 and 70 per cent reduction in jobs in open cut mines. (Computerworld, International Institute for Sustainable Development)

Under pressure from investors, BHP flags thermal coal exit: BHP has flagged that it may exit its investments in its two remaining thermal coal mines: the Cerrejon mine in Colombia and the Mt Arthur mine in New South Wales. BHP estimates the two mines, which it said “generate high margins”, will produce about 29 million tonnes in the 2018–19 financial year. In a briefing for investors on its business strategy BHP stated that it expects that “over time” thermal coal demand will “plateau and then decline, as headwinds strengthen.” It also stated that it expects thermal coal to be “phased out, potentially sooner than expected” and added that it had “no appetite for growth in energy coal regardless of asset attractiveness.” (Australian Financial Review, BHP)

US utility to close coal plants a decade early: Xcel Energy will, after negotiations with a coalition of labor and environmental groups, close the 598 MW Allen S. King coal plant in 2028 and the 809 MW Sherco 3 plant in 2030. Both plants, which are in Minnesota, are slated to close a decade earlier than planned if the closures are approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The agreement also requires reduced coal use at the Sherco 2 unit until its slated closure in 2023. Xcel also agreed to add 1850 MW of wind capacity by 2022, at least 3000 MW of solar capacity by 2030 and increase support for energy efficiency measures. The Sierra Club agreed to drop its objections to Xcel’s purchase of the Sherco gas plant in return for a re-evaluation of the viability of the proposed plant. Xcel also plans to extend by a decade the operating life of its Monticello nuclear plant in Minnesota but the Sierra Club declined to endorse this emphasising its preference for renewables. (MPR News, Sierra Club, Xcel Energy)

Thai investor talks up Asian appetite for alternatives to coal: Sarath Ratanavadi, the billionaire founder of Thailand’s Gulf Energy Development, argues that concern is rapidly growing in Asia about the pollution and climate impacts of building new coal plants. Gulf Energy is promoting the construction of new gas and renewables plants across Asia as an alternative. Gulf Energy proposes that by 2024 it will triple its generation portfolio from 6700 MW of mostly gas plants to over 24,000 MW. Ratanavadi argues that governments and the public in many countries are willing to pay for more expensive power to avoid the cost and public health impacts of pollution. (Bloomberg)

South African Government bails out Eskom as crisis grows: Eskom has confirmed that a contractor on the Medupi and Kusile coal plants has submitted a bill for 36 billion rand (US$2.5 billion), far more than had been budgeted for its work on the plants. Greenpeace Africa has called on Eskom to cancel further work on the Kusile project. The latest potential cost blowout comes as funds provided by the South African government to bail out Eskom and from a Chinese loan begin to flow into the stricken utility’s coffers. The financial ratings agency Moody’s has warned that Eskom and other debt laden public enterprises “remain a source of risk for South Africa’s fiscal strength.” (South African, My Broadband, IOL)


Managing the phase-out of coal: a comparison of actions in G20 countries, Climate Transparency, May 2019. (Pdf)

This 27-page report documents the role that coal plays in the economics of the G20 countries and collates coal phase-out actions underway in each of the countries.