May 20, 2021
Issue 370  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report on a pathway for limiting global heating to the Paris Agreement goal of a 1.5˚C increase marks a major turning point in the debate over the future of coal. The IEA, which has long been wedded to promoting fossil fuels, draws a line in the sand in its latest report and warns any further coal mines and power plants, along with other fossil fuel projects, jeopardises reaching the Paris Agreement goals.

There are a few factors behind the IEA’s dramatic shift. As country after country has adopted the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, the organisation has been under growing pressure to outline what achieving this could entail. The dramatic decline in the cost of renewables means that it is now feasible to switch to clean energy and electrify everything. The accelerating move by major financial institutions to back away from fossil fuels further reinforced the need for the IEA to switch focus to projects that may be funded and insured over the next 30 years.

The reverberations from the report are likely to be profound. Major companies peddling new coal and other fossil fuel projects can no longer shelter behind the imprimatur of the IEA. Pressure on banks and insurance companies to cease supporting new fossil fuel projects will intensify. National and regional governments, which have long cited the IEA to justify new coal and other fossil fuel projects, now face the choice of acknowledging that times have changed and embracing a transition, or pressing on with fossil fuel projects, guaranteeing pariah status. Finally, the report may well be cited in the increasing number of legal cases against major coal projects.

Momentum for ruling out further support for coal was already growing ahead of the Glasgow climate conference; the IEA’s report ups the pressure significantly.

Bob Burton


IEA: Renewables should overtake coal ‘within five years’ to secure 1.5°C goal

In the view of the IEA the world needs a “radical” shift towards renewables to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and secure the 1.5°C goal, writes a team of authors for Carbon Brief.

Anglo’s coal pipe dream

Anglo American’s decision to offload its South African coal assets to a smaller company is just running away from future liabilities, with the risks now carried by host communities and pension fund members, writes Tracey Davies, the Executive Director of Just Share, in the Financial Mail.

New Adani coal mine in central India will worsen already toxic situation

The Adani Group is seeking to develop another big coal deposit in Chhattisgarh despite the environmental impact of yet another coal project on the local people, including indigenous farmers on ancestral lands, writes Geoff Law from the Bob Brown Foundation in Adani Watch.

Top News

IEA 2050 scenario notes health benefits of coal phase-out: The IEA’s net zero emissions (NZE) scenario by 2050 argues that no new unabated coal power plants should be approved and there is no need for new coal mines or extensions. The IEA states the least efficient coal plants should be retired by 2030 but proposes any coal plants still online in 2040 should be retrofitted with carbon capture and storage. It estimates coal demand would fall by 90 per cent by 2050 in its NZE scenario. The IEA estimates sulphur dioxide emissions would fall by 85 per cent between 2020 and 2050, mostly due to the closure of coal power plants and industrial facilities. Combined with other changes in the NZE scenario, it estimates the switch to clean energy would avoid the premature deaths of about 2 million people per year with about 85 per cent of them in emerging economies. (International Energy Agency)

Survey reveals overwhelming concerns about Alberta coal mining plans: An online survey commissioned by the Alberta Government, which drew 25,000 responses in a three-week period, revealed 85 per cent of respondents lacked confidence in the province’s regulation of coal mining. Ninety per cent of respondents agreed there are some areas in the province where coal exploration should not be allowed, with only 30 per cent supporting the proposition that exploration may be appropriate in some areas such as near existing mines. About two-thirds of the respondents rated the economic benefits from coal mining as not important. (CBC)

UK calls on countries to accelerate coal phase-out: The UK Government-appointed president of the global climate negotiations, Alok Sharma, has called on countries to abandon coal power. “If we are serious about 1.5°C, Glasgow must be the Cop [Conference of Parties] that consigns coal to history. We are working directly with governments, and through international organisations to end international coal financing … and to urge countries to abandon coal power, with the G7 leading the way,” Sharma said. (Climate Home News)

Spain passes legislation banning new coal exploration: Spain’s parliament has adopted legislation committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels and banning new coal exploration and production permits. The legislation also sets a target of generating 74 per cent of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2030. According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker, Spain currently has 10 coal operating coal plants with a combined capacity of 4872 megawatts (MW). The plants are set to be phased out by 2025. The Minister for Energy and Environment, Teresa Ribera, said the legislation was “an essential law we must continue to build on.” (Climate Home News)

Contractor presses on without insurance as Adani admits more environmental breaches: BMD Constructions, a major construction company, has revealed in a submission to an Australian parliamentary inquiry that it has been unable to obtain insurance coverage for any Adani-related projects. The company stated it is in breach of its reported A$350 million (US$272 million) contract with Adani for work on the Carmichael coal project. BMD stated its lack of insurance created a “risk so substantial that if it materialised, could easily impair the company's ability to continue to trade.” In a separate development, Adani admitted it breached its environmental licence conditions by clearing land, which included potential koala habitat, without having a required wildlife spotter present. “Did Adani expect its bulldozer drivers to see koalas before they fall from the trees and are crushed in the tracks?” asked a spokesperson for the Mackay Conservation Group. (Guardian, BMD, Market Forces, Guardian)

German Chancellor Merkel presses for no change to coal exit deal: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is resisting the need to bring forward the retirement date of the country’s coal plants from 2038 despite a ruling of the Constitutional Court that more aggressive emissions reduction targets are required before 2030. The German Government has proposed a draft law requiring a 65 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2045. Most analysts insist the proposed targets require bringing the closure of coal plants forward to 2030 but Merkel, who retires after the September election, said existing power utilities “need some reliability on the path to climate neutrality.” Merkel said she didn’t want the July 2020 coal exit legislation changed only a year after it was adopted. (Reuters)

Court hearing over South African Government’s coal pollution inaction: The Pretoria High Court has been told the failure of the South African Government to cut air pollution in Highveld Priority Area, which is principally caused by Eskom’s power stations and Sasol’s coal-to-liquids plants, breaches residents’ constitutional right to a healthy environment. Both Eskom and Sasol are government-owned businesses. Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and groundWork are seeking a court order directing the government to improve the air quality in the area. The Ministry of Environment argues it is under no legal obligation to adopt regulations to achieve the goals set out in a 2012 plan for the Highveld Priority Area. (Zawya, Center for Environmental Rights)


Canada: Retired scientist reveals some bighorn sheep in Alberta are heavily contaminated with selenium from old coal workings.

South Africa: South32 expects to lose up to US$175 million on the sale of its South African coal projects to Seriti Resources.

US: Dominion Energy, which operates four coal plants, revealed as sponsor of Republican group promoting voter suppression measures.

Companies + Markets

Coal plant outages in Taiwan, South Africa and Poland affects millions: Millions of Taiwanese electricity consumers were hit by rolling blackouts due to a substation fault at the 4325 MW Hsinta coal- and gas-fired plant near Kaohsiung City. The plant comprises 2100 MW of coal capacity with the remainder of the units fired by gas. In South Africa, the publicly owned utility Eskom announced staged load-shedding after 10 coal units had unexpected faults. Eskom said three units at the 3600 MW Tutuka plant went offline due to faulty air compressors, a unit at the 4110 MW Majuba plant had to shut down and another unit tripped. It also said a unit at the 3000 MW Kriel plant went offline due to a boiler tube leak, and a steam leak affected a unit at the 3600 MW Matla power station. Units at the Medupi, Kusile and the Duvha power stations also tripped. All up, over 6000 MW of capacity went offline in a 24-hour period. In Poland, a switchyard failure at the 5420 MW Belchatow lignite plant resulted in 10 of the 11 units being disconnected from the grid, requiring imports to supply demand and a quick response by grid operators to stabilise the power system. (Deutsche Welle, Eskom, KTAR News)

Leaked details reveal Germany overpaying for coal closures: The climate think-tank Ember estimates the formula used by Germany’s Ministry of Economics (BMWi) to calculate compensation payments to RWE and LEAG for the closure of lignite units and associated mines is overly generous to the utilities. Ember estimates that BMWi’s use of three key metrics – the date range selected for forward power prices, the lack of any allowance for estimated savings from early closure and compensation spanning four to five years of lost generation – substantially favour utilities over taxpayers. Ember estimates the use of more conservative assumptions for any one of these metrics would almost halve the €4.4 billion (US$5.3 billion) compensation owed. Ember estimates the adoption of more conservative assumptions for all three metrics would cut compensation to just €343 million (US$416 million). (Ember)

Japanese's bank Mizuho pledge to end financing for coal mining: Japan’s third largest bank, Mizuho Financial Group (MFG), has pledged to end financing new thermal coal mining projects from June 1. Its policy previously only excluded financing for mountaintop removal projects where coal seams in the US are exposed by blasting cover rock off mountain ridges and pushing waste rock into the adjoining valleys. MFG’s new policy does not mention metallurgical coal. The Japanese oil refining company Eneos has also announced it will sell its 13.3 per cent stake in the Bulga mine in Australia and its 25 per cent share in the proposed 9.5 million tonnes a year Sukunka and Suska coal mine in British Columbia. However the company, which operates a 2.7 million tonnes per annum coal terminal in Yamaguchi prefecture, has not decided whether to close the operation or what it will do with its coal trading business, which sells about 10 million tonnes of coal a year to Japanese customers. (Reuters, Argus)

Vietnam delays new power development plan: A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) argues the delay by Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) in finalising the Power Development Master Plan for 2021–2030 has created an opportunity to fine-tune policies to increase competition between new renewables projects with storage and fossil fuel projects. The plan, which will also include a vision for power projects through to 2045, was originally slated to be completed by the end of March but has been deferred to June. IEEFA argues MOIT has the opportunity to adjust the plan to acknowledge funders’ increased interest in renewables. In the draft plan MOIT proposed coal capacity would increase from 20,000 MW in 2020 to 37,000 MW by 2030, a major cut from the 55,000 MW proposed in the current plan. (Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)

South Korea considering loopholes to ban on overseas coal plant funding: South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance is canvassing the option of allowing funding to overseas coal plants for retrofitting existing coal plants, projects equipped with carbon capture and storage technology and plants that have already been approved despite its announced commitment to banning support for new international coal projects. The proposal, which was flagged at a meeting chaired by Korea’s acting Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki, has been criticised by the climate NGO Solutions for Our Climate as a move that will damage the credibility of the Moon administration. Later this month South Korea is due to host the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) Summit to discuss partnerships to achieve carbon neutrality and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. (Eco-Business, Solutions for Our Climate)


Net Zero by 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system, International Energy Agency, May 2021. (Pdf) (The Executive Summary is available here.)

This 224-page report details a possible energy sector pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“The new coal champion of the world: The political economy of Chinese overseas development finance for coal-fired power plants”, Energy Policy, August 2021. (Abstract only; full article paywalled.)

This journal article examines the growth in China’s financial support for international coal plants and concludes it is only likely to decline if countries seeking funding move away from coal projects and Beijing drops its support for power industry equipment manufacturers seeking export markets.

Planning for coal mine closure in the Powder River Basin, Sightline Institute, May 2021. (Pdf)

This 20-page report reviews the halving of Powder River Basin coal production over the last decade and identifies the mines and communities most at risk as demand continues to fall.

Charting the course away from coal: the G7’s leadership opportunity: G7 coal scorecard – Sixth Edition, E3G, May 2021.

This 34-page report tracks progress towards a coal exist by the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US – which, along with the European Union, account for 68 per cent of OECD and EU coal capacity.