March 24, 2022
Issue 410  |  View Past Issues
Published by Global Energy Monitor

Editor's Note

There have been two big legal wins over coal pollution associated with power plants and mining in the last week. In Turkey, a court has ruled against an environmental assessment for a proposed 1800 megawatt (MW) expansion of the Afsin C lignite power plant. In South Africa, the High Court ruled air pollution over national air quality standards constituted a breach of residents’ constitutional right to a healthy environment. The minister for the environment now has 12 months to start enforcing clean air standards. In China, the new five-year energy plan to 2025 imposes no restrictions on coal power. Still, its emphasis on a significant expansion in renewables and long-distance transmission lays a foundation for reduced future coal generation.

The repercussions from the sanctions on Russian banks continue with Asian buyers of coal either wary of buying cargoes or struggling to complete transactions. Vietnam, which has become increasingly reliant on thermal coal imports, has been caught by the hike in global coal prices and reduced domestic production due to a surge in COVID-19 cases affecting miners. In India, the prioritisation of domestic coal for the power sector has rendered other industrial sectors such as aluminium smelters vulnerable. The price spike in the global thermal coal market has sharpened the debate over new coal plants, such as in Pakistan, which were proposed when coal prices were far lower.

Bob Burton


‘Deadly Air’ judgment raps South African government over air pollution inaction

Sasol and Eskom rely on their central role in the economy to justify an ongoing and lethal breach of constitutional rights, writes Robyn Hugo from Just Share in Daily Maverick.

Pakistan’s unviable coal plant

The people of Gwadar need a much quicker and more affordable solution than the proposed 300 MW Gwadar coal power plant, write Simon Nicholas and Haneea Isaad from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in The News.

Elite power struggle sees Vietnam abandon coal

After more than a decade of failures by bureaucrats and managers to deliver clean energy and clean air, there is broad sentiment for maximal exploitation of Vietnam’s endowment of wind and sunshine, writes retired US diplomat David Brown in Mongabay.


Turkish court rejects coal plant expansion

Kahramanmaras Administrative Court has ruled in favour of residents and environmental groups and overturned the environmental impact assessment report on the proposed 1800 MW Afsin C lignite-fired power plant in Kahramanmaras province. The court ruled the project should not proceed due to the impacts on agricultural production and air quality. The expansion of the existing Afsin plant was first proposed in 2008 but has encountered community opposition, legal challenges and waning interest from private investors. Most recently, the government-owned and managed Turkish Wealth Fund sought the involvement of seven Chinese companies to build and co-finance the plant. (BBC Turkey [Turkish], Yesilafsin [Turkish])

Top News

South African court rules government must cut coal plants air pollution: The High Court of South Africa has ruled in favour of Groundwork Trust and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action in what was dubbed the ‘Deadly Air’ case. The court found the Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Barbara Creecy, “has unreasonably delayed” developing and implementing an air quality management plan for the Highveld Priority Area (HPA). The HPA includes 12 coal-fired Eskom power plants, Sasol’s Secunda coal-to-liquids refinery and coal mines. The court ordered Creecy to “prepare, initiate, and prescribe” regulations for the plan and enforce it within 12 months. The court agreed that air pollution over national air quality standards would violate residents’ constitutional right to an environment that doesn’t damage their health or wellbeing. The decision was welcomed by groundWork Trust and Vukani Environmental Justice Alliance as confirmation of the health impacts of the plants and a decision that will have spin-off benefits for other polluted communities. (Mail and Guardian, Center for Environmental Rights, High Court of South Africa [Pdf])

China releases long-awaited five-year energy plan: The National Reform and Development Commission has released its long-awaited five-year plan for energy which emphasises the need for of 200,000 MW of coal plants to operate more flexibly in support of renewables. The plan proposes the construction of 800,000 MW of new generation capacity by 2025 and long-distance transmission capacity to cater for 60,000 MW of electricity from new renewables and coal energy bases. It estimates about 30,000 MW of old coal plants will be retired by 2025. The plan does not include a timeline for controlling greenhouse gas emissions and refers to a commitment to “strictly control” only coal consumption, not coal power capacity. (Bloomberg, Reuters)

Two mothballed Chinese coal plants restarted: China Huaneng Group, a major state-owned power utility, has announced its plans to reopen two coal plants in Gansu province, one of which was closed in 2018 and the other in the following year. A statement by the company said one of the plants would have 660 MW capacity, but the details on the other plant have not been disclosed. The move is the latest response by utilities that shut down unprofitable coal plant capacity last year when power prices were capped, and coal prices were high. Anonymous industry insiders said that the plants would still be unprofitable with current high coal prices. (Nikkei Asia)

Indonesian coal mine methane planning urgent says analyst: Conal Campbell, an analyst with the climate think tank Ember, says Indonesia needs to start planning for the decline in demand for its coal which may occur before 2030. Indonesia signed the Global Methane Pledge at the COP26 conference in Glasgow last year, which commits supporters to cut human-induced methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030. Indonesian coal production more than doubled to 616 million tonnes over the 10 years to 2019, making it the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal. Ember argues that Indonesia needs to prevent the mining of methane-rich coal seams, invest in methane monitoring, reporting and verification, and use or burn methane at operating mines. (Ember)

Over a quarter of US coal destined for plants slated for retirement: An analysis of US coal production data in 2021 has found that 26.9 per cent was sold to coal power plants that are set to retire by 2030. The investigation found 37.4 per cent of the current volumes are tied to plants slated to close by 2042. Over the last year, utilities have announced accelerated retirements as the viability of coal plants deteriorates compared to renewables and battery storage. The Powder River Basin, which spans Montana and Wyoming, is the most vulnerable region. In 2021 just over half of coal production was sold to plants scheduled to retire by 2042. An analyst at Commodity Insights estimates total US coal production will decline by 131 million US short tons (119 million tonnes) between 2021 and 2027. (S & P Global)

Turkey removes regulation protecting olive groves from coal mines: The Turkish Government has announced a new regulation granting coal mining companies priority over access to existing olive groves. The ruling Justice and Development Party touted the move to increase Turkey’s energy independence in the wake of pressure to cut energy imports from Russia after it invaded Ukraine. In March 2021, an olive farmer won her appeal against approval for the expansion of the coal mine to feed the 630 MW Yatagan lignite plant, the oldest coal power station in Turkey. The new regulation is likely to be challenged in the courts, with the National Olive and Olive Oil Council predicting it will be overturned. (Olive Oil Times)

South African mine disaster polluted 60 km stretch of river: A plume of wastewater that burst from a shaft at the abandoned Kromdraai coal mine on February 14 remained acidic for 60 kilometres until it reached the Loskop Dam. Little information has been made public on the cause of the failure at the mine, which was abandoned in 1966. It is estimated the water had a pH of 2 and killed at least three tonnes of fish. The mine is now the responsibility of Thungela after Anglo American spun off its South African coal mines in 2021. The Department of Water Affairs has directed Thungela to contain and minimise the effects of the incident and develop a rehabilitation plan for the site. (Daily Maverick)

“Use the same type of approach, when you have politicians that come and ask for support, that you do when you make a financial decision for yourself and your family: You want a return on investment,”

said Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, the biggest Senate recipient of fossil fuel donations, speaking to a room full of energy industry executives at a conference.


Australia: Former Liberal National Party minister and mayor of Gladstone, which hosts a major coal export terminal, describes the Morrison government as being “obsessed by coal”.

Australia: Australian Government grants [Pdf] approval for the Vulcan mine in Queensland.

Germany: Volkswagen signs MOU with steel producer Salzgitter to supply low-carbon steel from the end of 2025.

India: In an about-turn on its renewables policy, Reliance Power bids for Lanco’s 1320 MW Amarkantak plant in Chhattisgarh.

Pakistan: Lucky Electric has commissioned its 660 MW Port Qasim lignite-fired plant.

Portugal: Government energy agency floats option of keeping the Sines and Pego coal plants available as an emergency backup.

US: Federal judge orders FirstEnergy lawyers to reveal which executives paid bribes in the Ohio coal and nuclear bailout scandal.

Companies + Markets

Sanctions on Russia hits European coal imports: Robin Griffin, a senior executive with the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said that even though sanctions don’t directly apply to energy commodities, European buyers “are afraid to touch Russian coal”. He also said sanctions on Russian banks had increased the difficulty of buyers in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan to complete deals. With India’s steel sector traditionally relying on Australian metallurgical coal, Griffin suggested the sector could benefit from buying discounted Russian cargoes. (MoneyControl)

Vietnamese plants hit by coal price spike: The Vietnamese Government has announced that the publicly owned utility EVN is facing a coal shortage due to the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce of domestic coal production. In February, EVN received only 69 per cent of the coal that domestic coal producers were contracted to supply. Across the power sector, only 30 per cent of the contracted volume was delivered. As Vietnam’s thermal power capacity has grown, it has become heavily reliant on imports. In 2021 government-owned coal company Vinacomin supplied EVN with 17 million tonnes. Vietnam imported about 36 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2021, but the price has surged, adding financial pressure to power utilities. (CNA, VNExpress)

Indian importers squeezed by high prices: Auction prices for Coal India’s coal have soared to over 340 per cent of baseline prices in two sales in March compared to a 100 per cent premium in January. Coal India sells about 15 to 20 per cent of its domestic production via spot auctions rather than under long-term contracts. Despite soaring global prices, Coal India’s latest auction results are still about half the Newcastle thermal coal benchmark cost for equivalent-quality coal. The Aluminium Association of India is pressing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in Coal India’s policy of prioritising domestic coal production for the power sector at the expense of steel, aluminium and fertiliser producers. (Bloomberg, Business Standard)

Standard Bank rules out support for coal projects in Africa: Standard Bank, Africa’s largest lender, ruled out financing new coal plants or expanding existing coal plants. It said it will gradually reduce finance for coal power companies from 0.18 per cent of total group advances in 2021 to 0.12 per cent in 2030. The bank does not state the dollar value of its current coal exposure. However, the bank says it will finance the refurbishment of existing coal plants if the funding is for the “specific purpose of improving efficiency” and using carbon capture technology. The bank states it will continue to finance thermal coal mines “when there is an overall positive environmental impact”. The bank stated an example could be where a project next to an existing coal plant where transport emissions would be reduced or if it produced higher calorific value or lower ash coal than alternatives. BankTrack said these were substantial loopholes but welcomed the bank’s commitment to exclude providing financial support to companies that provide critical services to the coal sector, such as construction and operation contractors. (News24, Standard Bank, BankTrack)

Report reveals increased gas exports could undercut renewables, not coal power: A report by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Government’s peak scientific agency, estimates increased LNG exports could limit the role for renewables, extend the life of coal generation and result in increased greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of a carbon price. The study was commissioned by Woodside Energy, a major gas exporter, seeking approval for a new LNG plant because it would play a “key role in helping neighbouring Asian countries to take action on emissions reduction”. The study found that if LNG exports were targeted at countries with low levels of renewable deployment, such as India, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia, it would delay their adoption of low emission technologies. (Brisbane Times, Woodside [Pdf])

US corporate regulator unveils greenhouse disclosure plans: The US Securities and Exchange Commission has unveiled a draft regulation requiring publicly traded companies to disclose climate risks to their business and details of direct greenhouse gas emissions. The rule proposes companies be required to reveal Scope 3 emissions from the use of their product by buyers if it is “material” to investors. Scope 3 emissions account for the bulk of emissions for coal mining companies. The draft rule, which does not explicitly mention coal, is open for public comment for 60 days. (Inside Climate News, S & P Global, Securities and Exchange Commission)


Phaseout Pathways for Fossil Fuel Production Within Paris-compliant Carbon Budgets, University of Manchester, March 2022. (Pdf)

This 77-page report sets out a detailed assessment on phasing out coal and other fossil fuel production to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C.