November 18, 2021
Issue 394  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

As important as it is, the focus on the drama of the precise final wording changes on the coal clause in the Glasgow Agreement has in many respects overshadowed the effect of other commitments made at the COP26 climate conference. With a range of countries announcing net-zero commitments, a new report estimates up to 90 new coal power projects with a combined capacity of 88,000 megawatts (MW) could be scrapped. As if to emphasise the point, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister has directed the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) to revise the latest power development plan to take account of its COP26 commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Vietnam currently has the world’s third largest fleet of proposed new coal units, so decisions on those projects are of global consequence. Another report highlighted how China’s recent pledge to end the financing of new coal plants could cut Asia’s coal plant pipeline from 65,000 MW to 22,000 MW of capacity. Immediately after the conclusion of the UN conference, shares in a range of coal mining companies dipped.

Outside the world of international negotiations, coal projects continue to collapse. In Australia, the NSW Government looks set to withdraw three proposed coal exploration areas from a tender process and has agreed to set aside the stunning Gardens of Stone area as a reserve. In South Africa, a court has rejected the bid of a coal mining company to overturn an injunction blocking it from undertaking work in a protected water catchment area while a legal challenge is heard against its mining licence. In the US, one of the country’s largest utilities has announced it will retire 10 coal units by 2028.

Bob Burton


The battle for coal at COP26

There were encouraging signs of the shift away from coal at COP26 but a lot of hard work lies ahead, especially in ensuring a just transition, writes Nikos Tsafos from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Coal: down and out in Paris and Glasgow

Through adopting the Glasgow Climate Pact, all countries have now explicitly recognised that the transition from coal power to clean energy must be accelerated, writes Chris Littlecott from E3G.

The coal demand that almost sunk the Glasgow climate deal

The softening of the language on coal in the Glasgow Agreement followed negotiations between China, India, the US and the European Union, writes Karl Mathieson in Politico.

Steel’s emissions may have peaked, due to China’s decline

China can reduce the emissions intensity of its steel sector while green hydrogen costs continue to reduce towards competitiveness, write Simon Nicholas and Soroush Basirat from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.


Coal plant pipeline withers further with Glasgow announcements

The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) estimates new commitments made at the Glasgow COP26 conference are likely to result in the cancellation of up to 90 new coal power projects with a combined capacity of 88,000 MW. Current new coal plant proposals are for up to 300,000 MW of capacity. CREA estimates announcements to rule out new coal projects and end the financing of new fossil fuel projects could slash the number of new coal plants outside China by two-thirds with the remainder concentrated in just eight countries. CREA estimates new zero-carbon commitments also raise significant doubts about a further 130 new projects with a combined capacity of 165,000 MW, especially in China and Indonesia. CREA estimates about 750 coal-fired power plants now have a phase-out date, up from 380 plants before the process ahead of the conference. (Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air)

Top News

Coal in focus as with last-minute COP26 changes: The Glasgow Agreement agreed to at the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change COP26 conference has urged signatories to rapidly increase clean power generation, energy efficiency measures and support “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power”. The penultimate draft of the agreement referred to the “phase-out of unabated coal” but this was softened due to last-minute objections of India, China and the US. The President of the conference, Alok Sharma, had made a push to end the reign of coal power a central part of the UK Government’s diplomatic push. Sharma apologised to small island states after the change was adopted but insisted it sends a clear signal that the days of coal power generation are numbered. The next UN climate conference will be held in Egypt in 2022 where countries are required to submit updated emission reduction targets for 2030. At the conference there were 28 new signatories to the Powering Past Coal Alliance. (Guardian, Guardian, Sierra Club)

Vietnam’s power plan to be revised after Glasgow climate conference: Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister, Le Van Thanh, has directed the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) to revise the power development plan 2021–2030 (PDP8) to reflect the country’s commitment to a 2050 net-zero target adopted at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. The minister requested MOIT review the inclusion of projects, particularly coal plants, where no investor is currently backing the proposal or where they have indicated an intent to withdraw from a proposal. The next revision of the plan will be open for public comment via MOIT seminars before being finalised. Vietnam currently has 43 proposed coal units that have not yet entered the construction phase with a combined capacity of 19,360 MW. Only China and Indonesia have larger proposed coal plant pipelines. (VnExpress [Vietnamese])

China’s overseas coal ban could slash new coal plans: China’s pledge to end the financing of new coal plants could cut Asia’s coal plant pipeline from 65,000 MW to 22,000 MW of capacity. A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and Global Energy Monitor estimates that if all projects reliant on Chinese financing are cancelled then just 28 new coal-fired plants in Asia outside India and China would remain under consideration. The report notes that just one-third of the remaining plants in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam have secured financing. Many of these projects face local opposition and significant challenges in attracting finance, raising doubts they will be built. (Reuters, Global Energy Monitor)

NSW coal exploration areas rescinded: The New South Wales Government has announced a A$50 million plan to transfer about 31,500 hectares of public land into a state conservation area to protect the area known as the Gardens of Stone adjoining the Wollemi National Park World Heritage Area. Environmentalists have been campaigning to protect the area for 90 years with a 2012 Planning Assessment Commission report on a proposed open cut coal mine recommending “the highest and best use of the area is for conservation purposes”. As part of the deal the NSW Government said it would allow “responsible applications to extend the life of current underground coal mines such as Angus Place”. In recent years damage to important swamplands by underground coal mining galvanised state and local groups to campaign for the protection of the area against further mining development. Recently, the government rescinded three coal exploration areas adjoining the Wollemi National Park, declaring they would not have been economic to develop. (Guardian, NSW Government, Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Guardian)

South African court upholds stay on Mabola mining project: South Africa’s Constitutional Court has dismissed an appeal by Uthaka Energy which sought to overturn a 2021 High Court injunction preventing the company from commencing mining operations at its proposed Yzermyn coal mine. There are currently six legal challenges against the company’s project pending before the High Court. The proposed mine is in one of 22 Strategic Water Source Areas designated to protect fresh water catchments. In January 2021 the Mpumalanga regional government revoked the part of the proposed mining site within the Mabola Protected Environment to allow the mine to proceed. That decision is the subject of one of the cases before the court. (Center for Environmental Rights)

South African study estimates 5000 deaths a year from air pollution: A 2019 report by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research estimated 5125 South Africans die per year because of the government’s failure to enforce its own air quality standards. The study, which the South African Government has not released publicly, also reveals one-quarter of households in the country’s coal belt – which is home to 3.6 million people – have children with persistent asthma. Since 2015 the government has granted Eskom and Sasol exemptions from pollution standards on the grounds that the government-owned utilities can’t afford to implement pollution upgrades. The government decisions to waive the pollution standards are subject to legal proceedings brought by a coalition of civil society groups. (Reuters)

Study finds US mountaintop coal mining threat to endangered species: Researchers from the Defenders of Wildlife and the satellite data non-profit organisation SkyTruth found over 5900 square kilometres of forest in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia was cleared for surface coal mining or mining-related infrastructure between 1985 and 2015. The researchers analysed water quality data from 4260 monitoring stations within the affected catchments finding federal limits for aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, conductivity, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, pH, selenium, and zinc were exceeded on thousands of occasions during the period. The paper found the pollution occurred in streams that are important for the survival and recovery of species included on the endangered species list such as darters, salamanders, and crayfish. (Nation of Change, PLOS One)


Australia: Conveyor system fire causes dip in generation at Energy Australia’s Yallourn brown coal plant.

Australia: AGL fined A$15,000 (US$11,000) for breaching air pollution restrictions at its 2000 MW Liddell plant.

Australia: Whitehaven Coal fined A$30,000 (US$22,000) for discharge of polluted water from a failed sediment dam at its Tarrawonga mine in NSW.

Botswana: Shumba Energy attracts investor support as part of its plan to shift from a coal company to develop an US$80 million solar project.

Canada: Proposed ban on thermal coal exports would affect Montana coal producers Signal Peak Energy and Navajo Transitional Energy.

Canada: Flood damage to railways disrupts coal exports as the Port of Vancouver is isolated.

Philippines: Rachel Pinzon, the mayor of Luna, announces the town opposes Meralco’s proposed 670 MW La Union coal plant.

Serbia: Parliament set to allow power utilities to operate coal plants for three more years without environmental permits.

Turkey: The prospect of a European Union carbon border tax pushed Turkey to ratify the Paris Agreement said the country’s climate envoy.

Companies + Markets

Coal shares fall and European carbon price rises after COP26: In the immediate aftermath of the Glasgow climate conference a range of coal-exposed shares fell, including Chinese, US, Indonesian and Australian companies. Companies hit by falling share prices include China Shenhua Energy (1 per cent), Yanzhou Coal (2.4 per cent) Bumi Resources (5.7 per cent), Adaro Energy (4.5 per cent), Whitehaven Coal (1.6 per cent), Peabody Energy (about 8 per cent) and Arch Resources (5 per cent). The European Union carbon price also rose 5.9 per cent to a record €66.97 (US$76.25) per tonne. (Reuters, Reuters, BNN Bloomberg)

European investors and insurers ponder retreat from coal shipping: Increasing pressure on investors and insurers to drop support for coal is spilling over to the shipping sector with six European firms telling Reuters they have cut or are considering cutting their exposure to coal carriers. The six firms account for about five per cent of the estimated annual $US16 billion capital financing requirements of the dry bulk shipping industry. Coal is estimated to account of about one-third of the volume of dry bulk cargoes shipped. SwissRe, which stopped directly insuring coal cargoes in 2018, said that from 2023 it will not cover the transport of thermal coal via reinsurance treaties. Monaco-based Eneti said the thermal coal trade prompted it to exit from the dry bulk sector entirely and instead focus on support for specialist vessels catering for the growth of the offshore wind sector. (Reuters)

Protests push US bank to end relationship with Adani: Following protests outside its headquarters the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation has announced it will cancel all ties with Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine in Australia. In a statement the bank said it had decided “to resign from all legacy transactions with Adani in Australia and will not pursue additional transactions” on the grounds the project was not in line with its environmental, social and governance guidelines. (Bloomberg, Market Forces)

Southern Company confirms coal closures: Southern Company, one of the largest US utilities, has informed federal regulators it will close 10 coal units with a combined capacity of 5499 MW by 2028 in order to comply with federal wastewater regulations. Southern Company had previously stated 16 of its current 18 coal units in Alabama and Georgia met federal standards. Georgia Power, a southern subsidiary, plans to close two of the four 700 MW coal units at the 3498 MW Plant Bowen and a 614 MW unit at Plant Scherer. The company also plans to retire a 700 MW unit at Plant Barry in Alabama. It also plans to convert the 880 MW Unit 5 at Plant Gaston and a 350 MW unit at Plant Barry, both in Alabama, to gas. (Energywire, Southern Company [Pdf])

US regulator warned Manchin on the costs of CCS: A briefing provided to Senator Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in September by the chair of the state Public Service Commission (PSC), Charlotte Lane, revealed that even if the federal government funded the entire cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at AEP’s 1300 MW Mountaineer coal plant in West Virginia it would drive power prices up. The briefing document, which was obtained through an open records request by the Energy and Policy Institute, estimated adding CCS to the Mountaineer plant would cost between US$3 billion and US$5 billion with ratepayers carrying an increase in operating costs of 25 per cent to 35 per cent, amounting to about US$55 million per year. The PSC warned that without full federal funding the inclusion of a US$4 billion CCS system in the utility’s rate base would add about US$400 million per year or US$50 per megawatt hour to electricity costs. The PSC described this as “unsustainable”. Manchin has blocked the inclusion of a clean energy standard in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill and instead pushed for tax credits for CCS. (American Prospect)

KEPCO pins hopes on CCS as part of coal plans: Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) announced it will slowly phase out coal generation by 2050 but is pinning its hopes on the development of carbon capture and storage to cut emissions. KEPCO, which has 35,063 MW of operating coal plant capacity, said it planned to have CCS fitted to a 500 MW coal unit and a 150 MW gas unit by 2030. The company said it aimed to halve the cost of CCS. In 2013 KEPCO commissioned a small 10 MW post-combustion CO2 capture on the 500 MW Unit 8 at its Boryeong power plant. Based on the performance of the Boryeong plant, a 2019 academic paper in Korean Chemical Engineering Research estimated it would cost about US$35 to US$44 per tonne of captured carbon dioxide, excluding the cost of transportation and storage. This would increase the cost of energy from a notional 1000 MW plant by over 54 per cent. There is currently only one commercial coal plant in the world with CCS, SaskPower’s trouble-plagued Boundary Dam 3 unit in Saskatchewan. (Korea Herald, Korean Chemical Engineering Research [Pdf])

South African minister backs new plants and fossil fuel lobby group: South Africa’s Minister for Energy, Gwede Mantashe, has signalled his plan to oppose a legal challenge to the inclusion of 1500 MW of proposed new coal plants in the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan. Both the proposed coal plants have floundered due to legal losses and lack of finance. Mantashe recently launched a new fossil fuel lobby group, the Energy Council of SA, which describes itself as the “collective unified voice of energy”. The founding members of the group include fossil fuel producers Sasol, Eskom, Exxaro and TotalEnergies. The new group is chaired by Fleetwood Grobler, the CEO of Sasol, a coal-to-oil producer. (Business Live, Just Share)


“COP26: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Glasgow”, CarbonBrief, November 15, 2021.

This summary provides a comprehensive overview of the outcomes, including on coal, of the formal negotiations at the UN’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

Brazil: The toxic legacy of Engie Diamante Fram Capital, ICS, Arayara, Observatorio do Carvao Mineral, CoalWatch, November 2021. (Pdf) (The report is also available in Portuguese here and French here.)

This 36-page report details the environmental impacts of the 857 MW Jorge Lacerda coal power plant in Brazil and the associated coal mines that supply it.

Assessment of new coal generation capacity targets in South Africa’s 2019 Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity, University of Cape Town, November 2021. (Pdf)

This 84-page report models the increased cost to South Africa’s electricity consumers if 1500 MW of new coal capacity is built as catered for in the country’s current power development plan.