March 4, 2021
Issue 359  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at a Powering Past Coal Alliance summit, was emphatic that coal power must close down quickly to limit the damage from global heating. Ground-breaking research work by the German NGO Urgewald and partner groups has revealed the magnitude of the challenge with thousands of institutional investors holding over US$1 trillion in companies included on the Global Coal Exit List.

Later this week China will release its latest five year plan which will be a critical determinant in how fast coal use will decline. A plan unveiled by State Grid of China flags a big increase in renewable electricity in its transmission system out to 2030 but provides little detail beyond that. The Japanese trading company Mitsubishi has also announced it was pulling out of a major new coal plant in Vietnam. HSBC is facing a challenge over its support for financing another Vietnamese coal plant. This comes as Vietnam, one of the Southeast Asian countries with significant plans for new coal plants, has released its draft power development plan to 2030 for public comment. According to a Ukrainian NGO the country could close most of its old polluting coal plants by 2030 but needs to ensure investment in new renewables capacity.

Finally, Global Energy Monitor, which publishes CoalWire, has launched two new trackers related to our broader coal and energy transition work: one documents all large coal mines in the world and the other identifies all major steel plants.

Bob Burton


India’s National Rail Plan ignores climate and energy sector realities

India’s plan for a dramatic expansion of its railways dangerously assumes domestic coal consumption will continue to grow steadily for the next 30 years despite the realities of climate change and the accelerating energy transformation, writes Ashish Fernandes in the Economic Times.

What’s really driving the demise of US coal power plants?

New research shows that two of the key factors in the retirement of US coal plants are federal regulation and a campaign dedicated to ending coal power, write Dave Drake and Jeffrey York in The Conversation.

China’s carbon dioxide emissions surged in the second half of 2020

China’s consumption of coal, oil and gas all grew strongly in the second half of 2020, despite the pandemic and the government’s new pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, writes Lauri Myllyvirta in CarbonBrief.

This week may turn the tide on two centuries of emissions

The climate and energy plans in China’s soon-to-be-released five year plan will be the most important policies being made anywhere in determining the fate of the planet, writes David Fickling in Bloomberg.

Top News

Alberta First Nations reject coal plans: The Siksika and Kainai, two of Alberta’s largest First Nations, have written to three Australian companies, Montem Resources, Atrum Coal and Cabin Ridge Coal, objecting to further proposed coal exploration and mining projects in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. The Chief of Siksika Nation, Ouray Crowfoot, said the government of Alberta has failed to address the nation’s concerns so it has decided to oppose all new applications. The Kainai Nation has also objected to proposed metallurgical coal projects in the Crowsnest Pass Region in the headwaters of the Oldman River. Alberta’s Minister for Energy, Sonya Savage, said public consultations on the government’s coal policy would begin on March 29. (AirdrieToday)

Vietnam releases draft power plan as EVN steps up push to cap renewables: Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has released a draft of the country’s influential 2021–2030 power development plan. The draft plan, which is open for public comment until March 17, includes a vision for the country’s energy development to 2045. The release of the draft comes as the government-owned utility, EVN, is advocating renewable energy should be capped at 20–25 per cent of the grid. Renewable generation currently accounts for about 24 per cent of the country’s current capacity of about 70,000 megawatts (MW). (Ministry of Industry and Trade [Vietnamese], Dau tu Online [Vietnamese])

Community legal representative rejects Cerrejon announcement: Rosa Mateus, a lawyer representing community members affected by the Cerrejon coal mine, has described a settlement with the community and local government announced by the mining company as “a misinformation strategy that forms part of the fraudulent and bad faith conduct with which Cerrejon operates.” In 2020 a United Nations Special Rapporteur called on the Colombian Government to suspend operations at the Tajo Patilla site in the Cerrejon coal mine complex during the COVID-19 pandemic “until it can be shown to be safe.” In a statement Cerrejon said it has reached an agreement with the provincial government to address a ruling by the Constitutional Court directing the company to comply with health and the environmental standards. Cerrejon said it would build a health centre and undertake a rehabilitation program. (Reuters)

New coal mine and steel databases launched: Global Energy Monitor (GEM) has launched the Global Coal Mine Tracker which profiles all of the world’s coal mines with a capacity of over 5 million tonnes per annum and every proposed mine with a capacity of 1 million tonnes per annum. The map and underlying data will be updated every six months with the aim of including all mines producing over one million tonnes by the January 2022 edition. GEM has also launched the Global Steel Plant Tracker which documents all steel plants currently producing over one million tonnes of crude steel per year. The steel plant tracker is currently being expanded to include all plants over the one million tonne threshold which have been proposed, mothballed or retired since 2020. (Global Energy Monitor, Global Energy Monitor)

Coal ship sinks near Bangladesh World Heritage site: A ship carrying almost 848 tonnes of coal sank near the Sundarbans World Heritage site after colliding with another vessel in the middle of the night. The captain of the ship told port authorities the collision occurred due to thick fog and strong currents in the Pashur Channel as the ship approached Mongla Port. All 12 crew were unharmed and swam to shore. Coal ship accidents have become more frequent in Bangaldesh as the use of coal for power generation and other industrial uses has increased, with civil society groups expressing alarm at the risks to the Sundarbans World Heritage site. (Dhaka Tribune)

European Commission investigates Germany’s coal closure payments: The European Commission has launched an investigation into whether the German Government’s plan to pay €4.35 billion (US$5.25 billion) in compensation to utilities RWE and LEAG for the closure of coal plants breaches European Union (EU) rules against state aid. The compensation is based on estimates of foregone profits and mine rehabilitation costs. The commission noted that while the closure of lignite plants helped the EU’s climate goals it “has doubts that the measure is in line with EU state aid rules” as payments must be kept to the “minimum necessary” to avoid distorting market competition between energy generators. The investigation has been welcomed by ClientEarth which argued the companies long knew of the risks but failed to plan accordingly. (Euronews, European Commission, ClientEarth)

US Democratic legislators unveil clean energy bill: The Chairman of the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone Jr., has released the CLEAN Future Act which proposes an interim target of cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline. The bill would require electricity retailers to meet a clean electricity standard of 80 per cent of power from clean sources by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035. Pallone said a clean energy standard is a better approach than a carbon tax in part due to environmental justice concerns. The bill would also require workers to be paid “prevailing wages” for the construction of new generation and would establish programs to support workers and communities affected by the transition to clean energy. (The Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee)

“Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5 degree goal,”

said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Powering Past Coal Alliance Summit.


Australia: Hearing starts on a legal challenge by eight teenagers to have the Federal Minister for the Environment block the expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery mine in New South Wales.

Australia: Adani wants a court order to block activist Ben Pennings from publicly referring to 360 company documents but has refused to detail exactly what information it is referring to.

Finland: Pension insurer Varma has excluded investments in coal mining companies and coal power from its €50 billion (US$60 billion) investment portfolio.

India: Coal imports have declined by 11.6 per cent over the first 10 months of the 2020–21 financial year (April–January).

India: Coal India plans investments in a new alumina refinery and two aluminium smelters.

UK: Government accused of hypocrisy for calling for an end to coal use while refusing to rule out the development of a new metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria.

US: Citi, which lent US$13.5 billion to the coal sector over the last two years, has promised to provide key details of its new climate policy “within the next year.”

US: Wyoming legislators propose bills to require regulators to slow coal plant retirements.

Companies + Markets

State Grid of China unveils plan for renewables boost: The State Grid Corporation of China, which operates the transmission grid of 26 provinces, has unveiled a ‘net zero’ plan to increase the amount of renewable generation it carries to 50 per cent by 2025. The company estimates solar and wind generation would reach 1000 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, up from the current 450 GW in the areas it supplies. However, State Grid provided no detail on its goals beyond 2030 to meet President Xi Jinping’s 2060 goal of carbon neutrality. Lauri Myllyvirta from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air said the targets for increased non-fossil fuel generation are the bare minimum to reach the target of 25 per cent non-fossil fuel generation by 2030. (Argus, Lauri Myllyvirta [Twitter])

Research reveals investors hold US$1 trillion in coal investments: Research by Urgewald and partner organisations has revealed 4488 institutional investors hold investments totalling US$1.03 trillion in the 934 companies included on the Global Coal Exit List. The report estimates US investors collectively have US$602 billion or 58 per cent of the funds invested in the largest coal sector companies. The US mutual fund company Vanguard has US$86 billion invested in the coal sector with BlackRock holding a further US$84 billion in the sector. The two companies hold 17 per cent of the total institutional investments in the coal sector. (Urgewald)

Mitsubishi drops Vietnamese coal plant: According to anonymous corporate sources, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) will end its involvement in the 1980 MW Vinh Tan 3 plant in southern Vietnam. This is the first coal project Mitsubishi has dropped since its May 2019 environmental policy pledging to end financial support for new coal projects. MUFG has a 49 per cent share in the consortium proposing the project. The Vinh Tan 3 project – one part of a proposed 6225 MW complex of plants – has long been a source of controversy. In mid-April 2015 thousands of local residents blocked National Highway No 1A in an unprecedented protest against coal dust pollution from the first stage of the complex. (Reuters)

HSBC challenged over loan for Vietnamese coal plant: In a letter to HSBC and Barclays, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) has raised concern that a 250 million pound (US$354.35 million) bond issue by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) will support expansion of the Vung Ang 2 power project. The EDO, which is acting for Anthropocene Fixed Income Institute, warned the promotion and issuance of the bond by the banks “entailed possible breaches” of the banks’ legal duties and breached their pledges to end financing new coal projects. JBIC has previously stated bond funds would be pooled with part of the proceeds used to fund the Vung Ang 2 project. The EDO warned the bond prospectus did not explicitly mention the funds could be used to fund Vung Ang 2. (Reuters)

Ukraine NGO says most coal plants could retire by 2030: Ecoaction, a Ukrainian NGO, estimates nearly all of the country’s coal capacity could be retired by 2030 though subsidised domestic power presents one hurdle for utilities needing to invest in new capacity. A draft report prepared by Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s transmission utility, estimates coal capacity could be slashed from 18,400 MW capacity now to just 2500 MW by 2030. Nearly all of Ukraine’s coal plant capacity is already over 40 years old, and over 13,800 MW is over 50 years old. Ukraine is a member of the Energy Community Treaty which obliges members to meet the obligations of the EU’s Large Combustion Plants Directive and the Industrial Emissions Directive. (ICIS, Global Energy Monitor)

Polish utility takes big write-down on coal assets: The Polish utility Tauron has written down the value of its 4000 MW of coal and lignite plants by 2.6 billion zloty (US680.2 million) and the value of its coal mining assets by 380 million zloty (US$100.8 million). In a report to investors the company attributed the write-down to the increase in the EU’s carbon price, the displacement of Polish coal generation due to increased renewables and the resulting squeeze on power price margins. The company also notes the impacts of the reform of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and the climate policy focus on “accelerating the pace of the decarbonization in order to achieve climate neutrality in Europe.” (Tauron)

Anglo American aims to exit Colombian mine within three years: Anglo American CEO, Mark Cutifani, said he anticipated the company will make a decision on the possible divestment of its one-third stake in the Cerrejon thermal coal mine in Colombia within two to three years. It has previously been reported that the other joint venture partners – Glencore and BHP – have the first rights to purchase the stakes of other consortium members. However, BHP has also flagged it may also exit the project as pressure mounts for it to end investments in thermal coal. Anglo is also planning on selling its loss-making South African projects which produced 17 million tonnes of coal in 2020. Cutifani said spinning off its South African coal projects was the most likely option, though a direct sale remains a possibility. (Miningmx)

Japanese bank boss suggests it may end international coal lending: The Governor of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), Tadashi Maeda, has indicated the bank may no longer provide financial support for new overseas coal plants. This follows international criticism of the bank’s December 2020 decision to provide US$636 million for the proposed 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 plant in Vietnam. “The trend now is to shift away from carbon. Coal is increasingly being rejected as it is the energy source producing the most carbon dioxide emissions,” Maeda said. However, the week before he made these comments he defended JBIC’s role in funding international coal plants, stating “if Japan does not provide financial assistance, another country will.” (NHK, Nikkei)


Health and Environmental Impacts of Coal Mining – A study of the health of people living close to mines in Ramgarh district, Jharkhand, People First Collective, February 2021.

This 44-page report found serious health problems among the residents living around coal mines in Mandu block of Ramgarh District in Jharkhand.