December 5, 2019
Issue 302  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

As at the latest global climate conference talks get under way in Spain, details have emerged of a Chinese government agency’s plan to slash coal plant overcapacity to cut financial losses by the five largest publicly owned utilities. In other developments, a new report has revealed that the number of insurance companies with coal exit policies has more than doubled in the last year. In South Korea, three financial institutions have announced they will no longer invest in coal plants.

Elsewhere, public alarm over extreme pollution is leading regulators and politicians to act. In Turkey, President Erdogan has vetoed a bill backed by his own party which would have exempted coal plant operators from complying with pollution standards for a further two and a half years. In Taiwan, a city council has fined Taipower for breaching its 2019 coal consumption limit. In India, the Central Pollution Control Board is threatening action against coal utilities in the Delhi region that operate in breach of pollution standards. However, India’s Minister for the Environment has denied there is any evidence of a direct link between Indian air pollution and premature deaths.

Public challenges continue against proposed coal mines. In Germany, thousands of people occupied three coal mines and blocked associated coal railways as wrangling over the nature of the country’s coal power exit plan continues. In Colombia, indigenous people affected by the vast Cerrejon coal mine blocked the railway line to the port in protest against the failure to honour past agreements with them.

Bob Burton


BlackRock's Larry Fink must think again over tackling climate crisis

BlackRock’s billionaire CEO, Larry Fink, needs to address the fund manager’s reputation as a climate laggard, writes Nils Pratley in the Guardian.

Russia's Taymyr coal mining plan will damage Arctic argue critics

Russian Government plans to boost coal exports from the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia risk significant damage to the Arctic environment, writes Laurence Peter in BBC.

Is thermal coal an unbackable favourite, or just unbankable?

Coal mining companies promoting thermal coal projects in Australia are finding it harder to get finance and insurance, writes Rachel Williamson in Stockhead.

Top News

Chinese agency proposes plan to cut loss-making coal plants: The state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) has proposed that five government-owned utilities be required to cut their coal generating capacity by between a quarter and a third by the end of 2021 in order to halve their financial losses. The five companies — China Huaneng, China Datang, China Huadian, State Power Investment Corporation and the China Energy Group — accounted for about 44 per cent of China’s coal capacity in 2018. The plan proposed that the reductions in coal capacity begin with each of the companies piloting reductions in one of five north-western provinces. The five provinces have significant wind and solar generation which has contributed to the losses of the coal plants. The proposed closures could amount to between 20,000 and 30,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity. SASAC’s plan also suggests some central government resistance to proposals by coal industry think tanks for approval for the construction of ruction of hundreds of new coal plants in China’s next five year plan. (Reuters, Bloomberg, Lauri Myllyvirta)

Turkey’s President vetoes coal plant pollution exemption: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vetoed a bill that would have delayed the deadline for 15 coal plants complying with pollution standards for two and a half years. The bill, which was opposed by civil society groups, was passed by parliament on November 21 with the support of Erdogan’s AKP party. In early November Greenpeace Turkey and WWF Turkey called for the 15 coal plants to be closed, arguing that they were not required for their capacity and, when privatised in 2013, the operating companies knew the deadline for meeting the pollution standards was December 2019. A spokesperson for Erdogan said the bill was vetoed “as a result of environmental sensitivity.” This was the first time Erdogan has vetoed a bill. Erdogan said “if you don't comply with this decision [the deadline for compliance], we don't let our people be poisoned just because you will earn more money.” (Bianet, Bianet)

Taiwanese utility fined for exceeding coal limit: The Taichung City Government has fined the Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) $3 million New Taiwan dollars (US$98,300) for exceeding its annual coal use limit of 11.04 million tonnes at its 5500 MW Taichung power plant. Taipower has threatened legal action while the national government’s Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) issued a directive in November allowing Taipower to exceed the 11.04 million coal limit by up to 10 per cent. Local government leaders have objected to the EPA directive. The Taichung City Government has also threatened to revoke the operating licenses for one or two of the 550 MW units unless improvements are made at the plant. (Focus Taiwan, Taipei Times)

Pollution regulator flags a potential crackdown on Indian coal plant: After weeks of extreme pollution across northern India the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has warned power utilities near Delhi that coal power plants could be shut down if they don’t comply with new emissions standards. In a letter to Haryana Power Generation Company, a utility owned by Haryana Government, the CPCB asked why the 250 MW Unit 7 at the Panipat Thermal Power Station should not be closed due to non-compliance with standards. While coal plants in the National Capital Region are supposed to comply with the standards by December 2019, a Reuters analysis suggests almost none will. (Reuters)

German protests shut three coal mines: Thousands attended weekend protests blocking three coal mines — the Janschwalde and Welzow-Sud mines in Brandenburg and the United Schleenhain mine in Saxony — and associated rail connections to coal power plants. LEAG, the utility which operates the Welzow-Sud mine, claimed it would file criminal charges against protesters arrested in its mine. The protests occurred the day after hundreds of thousands of people at over 500 locations across Germany attended a climate strike which called on governments to agree to ambitious measures at the 25th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which is being held in Madrid. (Deutsche Welle, The Local)

Upheaval at Colombian coal company: Members of the Sarrutsira indigenous community blockaded the railway line to Cerrejon’s Puerto Bolívar coal port for two days in protest against the lack of jobs, their displacement from grazing lands and the withdrawal of water supplies. After just over a year as President of Cerrejon, Guillermo Fonseca will step down from January 1 though the company has provided no reason for his sudden departure. Cerrejon, which is a joint venture between BHP, Anglo American and Glencore,  has been hit by declining demand with the company proposing an 18 per cent reduction in its workforce in forthcoming talks with unions. Cerrejon, which is one of the largest coal exporters from Colombia, is likely to produce about 26 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2019/2020 financial year. (Montel, El Tiempo [Spanish])

Australian farmers launch legal challenges against proposed huge coal mine: Farmers have filed legal challenges in the Queensland Land Court against the environmental approval and the mining licence for Waratah Coal’s proposed Galilee Coal Project in the Bimblebox Nature Reserve. Waratah Coal is owned by Clive Palmer, a controversial businessman who spent A$60 million on an election campaign for his own political party, which boosted support for the pro-coal Liberal National Party government at the May 2019 federal election. The proposed mine and associated infrastructure would result in the clearing of about half of the 8000 hectare reserve with proposed underground operations impacting on the remainder. The reserve is home to an estimated 150 bird species including the endangered black-throated finch. (Guardian, Environmental Defenders Office)

US coal lobby group loses two major coal-burning utilities as members: American Electric Power (AEP) and Southern Company are leaving the peak US coal industry lobby group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). ACCCE has been a leading opponent of the Clean Power Plan and proposed subsidies for unprofitable coal plants. Southern Company, which paid US$50,000 to ACCCE in 2018, said its membership had lapsed and would not be renewed. AEP, which paid US$10,000 in 2018, said its membership would not be renewed in 2020. ACCCE’s budget fell from US$9 million in 2015 to US$5.7 million in 2017. (E & E News)

“There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish a direct connection of said India’s Minister of State for Environment and Forest, Babul Supriyo, in response to a question in Parliament about the Lancet’s estimate that 500,000 Indians died prematurely from air pollution in 2016.


Australia: Farmers seek leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia about a lower court decision clearing the way for the expansion of the Acland mine.

Australia: Glencore subsidiary, Bulga Coal Management, has been fined A$15,000 (US$10,230) for discharging saline water into a creek near an active mining area.

Netherlands: Ahead of crucial Senate vote on coal plant exit, Uniper warns of likely legal action.

Philippines: At a public hearing on Meralco’s power deals, NGOs accuse the utility of reviving its push for new coal plants.

Spain: Iberdrola plans to decommission the Lada and Velilla coal plants in 2020 and replace them with wind and solar projects.

US: Richmond council proposes three-year phase-out of coal storage at Levin Richmond Terminal.

Companies + Markets

Insurance retreat from coal accelerates: The annual scorecard on the insurance industry by Unfriend Coal has revealed that a further 10 insurance companies have announced coal exit policies in 2019, including the first US and Australian insurance companies. A total of 17 insurance companies now have coal exit policies with most ruling out support for new thermal coal mines and power plants. Some have also ruled out support for existing plants and the companies that operate them. The 17 companies account for 46 per cent of the reinsurance market and 9.5 per cent of the primary insurance market. However, the scorecard notes that major US and Asian insurers continue to support new coal projects. The report also notes major insurance broking firms such as Aon, Marsh, Willis Towers Watson and Arthur J. Gallagher play a critical role in facilitating coverage for new coal projects. (Guardian, Unfriend Coal)

South Korean financial institutions back away from coal: Three South Korean financial institutions —DB Insurance, Korean Teachers’ Credit Union and Public Officials Benefit Association — have announced they will not finance new coal plants as a way to reduce fine particle pollution and climate change impacts. At an event announcing the joint commitment, Representative Kim Sung-hwan from the ruling Democratic Party said that South Korea’s continued support for the construction of new coal plants in Southeast Asia is a “shameful reality” and called on other financial institutions to cease support for new coal plants. (Korea Herald)

French central bank to stress-test banks on coal exposure: Francois Villeroy de Galhau, the Governor of France’s central bank, announced it will “run climate stress tests” on French banks and insurance companies. The results of the stress tests would be made public. “It is absolutely necessary that the risk of financing coal plants is quickly reduced on French banks’ balance sheets,” Villeroy said. (Reuters)

Vale writes value of Mozambique mine down by US$1.6 billion: The Brazilian mining company Vale has announced it will shut its Moatize mine in Mozambique for three months in 2020 and will concentrate on producing a greater percentage of metallurgical coal for export. The company said that it had also reduced the expected size of the available resource “mostly due to technical issues.” Due to its revised plan the company announced that it will write down the value of the project by US$1.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019. The Moatize mine was commissioned in May 2011 and a 600 MW coal plant was proposed in 2014 to consume some of the mine’s thermal coal. However, the plant has not proceeded. (Vale, Global Energy Monitor)

Germany’s coal exit plan wrangling continues: The draft law to implement a coal exit continues to be revised with the latest draft excluding proposed changes to the renewable energy law. An earlier draft included a ban on new onshore wind turbines within a kilometre of houses, a higher offshore wind target and the cancellation of a 52,000 MW ceiling on solar installations. The latest draft proposes 4000 MW of coal plant closures with compensation will be auctioned in 2020 and 3000 MW of lignite closures will be finalised by 2022. While Germany currently has 20,000 MW of hard coal generating capacity, in 2019 generation has only been about 6000 MW due to low profitability. (Platts)

French insurance giant AXA unveils coal exit policy: In its updated climate policy the French insurance company AXA has committed to cease support for coal plants in Europe and OECD countries by 2030, and in the rest of the world by 2040. AXA also announced it would cease to provide insurance services, with the exception of employee benefits, for companies that plan to invest in any coal power plants with a capacity of over 300 MW. The revised policy was broadly welcomed by NGOs but the late end date has been criticised as inadequate. While the largest mining companies self-insure, Unfriend Coal flagged that these policies may be insufficient for the services coal companies require. (Guardian, Forbes, AXA)


How is the transition to a climate-neutral economy made just?, Climate Action Network Europe, December 2019. (Pdf)

This 14-page report outlines how a transition to a climate-friendly economy can be undertaken. The report includes brief case studies on some coal regions.