May 16, 2019
Issue 275  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

A new feature of the public commentary on climate by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been his recurrent call for no new coal plants to be built after 2020. His comments were first made at an event in Beijing several weeks ago but surprisingly went without notice at the time. As the UN speaks out against more coal, the UK’s record-setting run without coal power serves as a tangible demonstration that a rapid transition is possible. Even Rio Tinto, a global mining company that has now offloaded its thermal coal mines, conceded the point that coal power is no longer essential.

A recent report from the financial analyst firm Moody’s has noted that the prospects for new coal plants in Asia are becoming far more challenging. In the Philippines, the Supreme Court has ruled that seven signed power supply agreements for new coal plants must be opened up to competitive bidding, potentially opening the door for new renewables projects. In the US, Cloud Peak Energy, a major thermal coal producer which pinned its hopes on exporting into the Asian market, has filed for bankruptcy and is aiming to sell off its assets. In South Africa, the CEO of Eskom told an industry conference how hard it is to finance coal projects.

In Australia, public records have revealed the haste with which the government approved a vital groundwater management plan for the proposed Carmichael coal mine despite serious misgivings by key scientific agencies. Adani has other problems, though, with Rothschild telling Friends of the Earth France that it has ended its association with the controversial company and the proposed Carmichael project.

Bob Burton


The world’s last coal plant will soon be built

The peak in global coal plant capacity could be just months away as more generators were closed last year than approved, writes David Fickling in Bloomberg.

For the sake of the climate, there needs to be a global campaign to reduce China’s coal

The sheer scale of China’s coal power industry means that there is a need for a global campaign to ensure China cuts coal use quickly, writes Aiqun Yu from Global Energy Monitor.

China, Japan and South Korea, while vowing to go green at home, promote coal abroad

While China, Japan and South Korea have promised to reduce fossil fuel consumption at home they are the largest backers of new coal plants in Asia and Africa, writes Shashank Bengali in the Los Angeles Times.

Time for Japan to lead Asia in cutting off coal power financing

Japanese banks should lead the region in ending the financing of new coal plants but without creating loopholes for specific projects, writes Shin Furuno from in Nikkei Asian Review.

Top News

UN Secretary-General urges no new coal after 2020: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to construction of new coal plants after 2020. In late April, Guterres told a summit on China’s Belt and Road Initiative that he has been asking national leaders to adopt carbon pricing, to end subsidies on fossil fuels and “not to start construction of new coal plants beyond 2020.” Guterres described China’s Belt and Road Initiative as an “an opportunity we cannot miss” to help countries to transition clean-energy pathways which are “based on non-fossil energy.” China remains the largest funder of new coal power plants in the world. (Associated Press, UN News, United Nations Secretary-General)

UK coal-free generation records tumble: In April the UK’s coal-free power generation record was set at 90 hours. Just weeks later the record was smashed with the country’s electricity grid operating coal free for over 193 hours or just over eight days. This was the longest run without coal for Great Britain since 1882. Since then a further coal-free generation period reached over 133 hours. Ireland also achieved a record-setting coal-free run of 25 days between April 11 and May 7. (BBC, UK Grid, The Irish News)

Philippines court overturns coal plant power agreements: The Philippines Supreme Court has ruled that power supply agreements (PSA) between power generators and distributors entered into after June 30, 2015 must be opened up to competitive bidding. The ruling follows a challenge against an Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) regulation that delayed the start of the competitive bidding requirement until April 26, 2016. In the fortnight before the deadline 90 PSAs were submitted to the ERC for approval, including some between the generation and retail subsidiaries of Meralco. Amongst these were seven agreements running for up to 20 years for power from new coal plants. The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice and other community groups have welcomed the court decision as likely to benefit communities threatened by coal power plants covered under the agreements and to protect consumers from paying for expensive fossil-fuel-fired plants. (Inquirer, Rappler, Supreme Court of the Philippines)

Philippines energy regulator highlights unreliability of new plants: The Philippines ERC has revealed that coal plants aged under five years old have been plagued with so many technical problems that between March 5 and April 25 they broke down over 20 times, more than plants aged between 26 and 30 years old. ERC commissioner Catherine Paredes Maceda said that power plant operators told the commission that “just because a plant is new it won’t break down” and that a power plant “is complicated.” During inspections of new plants ERC staff were told that problems included boiler tube leaks, a build-up of slag in a boiler and faults with pumps. The plant failures have led to load-shedding in the Luzon grid. (Business Mirror)

Leaked polling reveals public hostility to Queensland coal industry: A leaked public opinion survey commissioned by the Queensland Resources Council, the peak mining industry lobby, has found the perceptions of the whole industry “are almost entirely based on strong negative perceptions of open-cut coal mining.” The study found that many respondents viewed mining as environmentally damaging and a threat to the tourism and agricultural industries. They also preferred renewables over coal-fired power generation. Ipsos, the market research company that undertook the study, found that only the scandal-plagued finance industry and the aged care sector have worse public reputations than the mining industry. (ABC News, Australia Institute, Queensland Resources Council)

Documents reveal pressure to fast-track approval for Adani’s Carmichael mine: Internal correspondence has revealed that the Australian Government’s science agency, the CSIRO, was pressured to approve Adani’s proposed water management plan for the Carmichael coal mine in a single afternoon without access to detailed information submitted by the company. CSIRO research director Warwick McDonald wrote in a letter he drafted to the Department of Environment that he had “been careful about not being categoric” in suggesting whether changes made by Adani to the proposed water management plant had addressed the concerns of scientists. Two days before the federal election was called, the Minister for Environment, Melissa Price, approved Adani’s proposed water management plan and claimed that CSIRO and other agencies “confirmed” the company’s plan “met strict scientific requirements.” She also claimed that she was simply following the advice of the scientific agencies. (ABC News)

“In the case of coal, there are viable alternative sources of energy that do not produce greenhouse gases. So we would argue that coal is not essential to human progress,”

said Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson in response to questions by the NGO Market Forces about the company’s climate policy.


Australia: Gloucester Resources decides not to appeal against the Land and Environment Court ruling rejecting the Rocky Hill mine in part on climate grounds.

Australia: WaterNSW urges restrictions for two underground mines in Sydney water catchment as water losses grow.

Indonesia: PT Bukit Assam aims to complete feasibility studies in May on two coal gasification proposed for Sumatra.

Kosovo: Environmental groups file complaint to European Energy Community against the power purchase contract for the proposed 500 megawatt (MW) Kosovo C project.

Myanmar: Human rights experts fear Adani’s Ahlone port deal with military company will benefit generals accused of human rights abuses.

Netherlands: Study estimates court-backed emissions reduction target could be met by closing three new coal plants at a cost of €760 million (US$852 million).

US: New York state introduces new regulations likely to result in phasing out coal power plants by 2020.

US: Federal judge rules that Drummond Company is violating the Clean Water Act with acid mine drainage pollution from its now closed Maxine mine.

Zimbabwe: Lack of reliability at Hwange coal plant, combined with drought, prompts load-shedding.

“The truth is, how will we fund fossil fuels if we remain on them? The trend in financial markets is that you see fewer and fewer investors still willing to fund fossil fuels … In South Africa, out of the four biggest banks, three have stated that they won’t be funding us,”

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe told a conference for African utilities.

Companies + Markets

Polish energy regulator warns of damage done by government’s coal policies: The outgoing head of the Polish energy regulator URE, Maciej Bando, has warned that erratic government policies are driving investors away from the sector and leaving only speculators. Bando said that policies pursued by the ruling Law and Justice party aiming at forcing state-owned utilities to support ailing coal mining companies were damaging investor confidence in the country. Bando said the increase in wholesale prices was in part attributable to the increased risks carried by utilities as well as higher coal and carbon prices. In December 2018 the government bypassed URE to freeze residential power prices and press for lower prices for major industrial customers ahead of the general election which is due by November 2019. Ahead of the election Greenpeace had sought to highlight that both major Polish political parties are so far baulking at supporting a coal power phase-out. (Reuters, Xinhua)

NSW coal railway operator expects declining coal exports: The Australian Government-owned Australian Rail Track Corporation's (ARTC) has released a strategy for the Hunter Valley railway network which projects that coal exports will decline from 2024. While ARTC was contracted to carry 193.5 million tonnes of coal in 2018 it expects this to decline to 152 million tonnes between 2024 and 2026. ARTC estimates the 10 million tonnes carried in 2018 for domestic power stations in the Hunter Valley will decline to zero by 2026. Proposals for new coal mines would require ARTC to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading the network including the foundations of the rail lines which were built in the 1900s, well before heavy coal load was anticipated. (Newcastle Herald)

Moody’s warns coal’s fortunes are waning in Asia: The financial analyst firm Moody’s has acknowledged that a range of factors are combining to increase the risk that coal power plants in Asia could become uneconomic sooner than it had previously expected. In particular, Moody’s notes that increasing public pressure on governments over air pollution, shifts in climate policy and the falling cost of renewables are combining to increase the likelihood that many coal plants will become uneconomic to run. It also notes that “declining funding options will further limit the growth of coal power in Asia.” The analyst firm reports that increasing pressure on investors and banks to decarbonize their investment portfolios is making support for new coal plants increasingly unattractive. (Moody’s)

Major US coal company opts for bankruptcy: Cloud Peak Energy has blamed “challenging market conditions” as the driver for its voluntary application for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while it attempts to sell its portfolio of thermal coal mines. Cloud Peak Energy, which was spun off by Rio Tinto in 2009, operates three open-cut thermal coal mines in the Powder River Basin and produced about 50 million tons (45 million tonnes) in 2018. As domestic markets declined due to coal plant closures, the company strategy was to rely on increased exports to Asia. However, this was frustrated by opposition to new export terminals and debt incurred in the US$300 million purchase of the Youngs Creek mine in Wyoming. (Casper Star-Tribune, Sightline Institute, Cloud Peak Energy)

Singaporean bank revised policy takes small steps away from coal: A spokesperson for the Singapore-based United Overseas Bank (UOB) has claimed that it has “rejected all” proposed coal power plant investments since January 2018 and that “we do not have any new deals in the pipeline.” The bank also claimed that its focus is on the development of renewable energy. However, the company’s annual report states that in 2018 it ruled out supporting subcritical coal-fired power plant projects and that its policy is to support “higher efficiency, lower emission” coal plants which emit less than 830 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. It also states that it only excludes support for new “low-energy density” coal mines but provides no further detail. (Eco-Business, UOB)

Rothschild abandons Adani: In a letter to Friends of the Earth (FOE) France, Rothschild & Co announced that it has decided not to advise Adani on financing its proposed Carmichael coal project or the proposed sale of a stake in its Abbot Point Coal export terminal in Queensland. FOE France and other groups had urged Rothschild & Co to cease supporting Adani and feared the proceeds from the sale of part of the coal port would be used to finance the Carmichael project. Rothschild is also currently advising Uniper on the sale of its French coal plants to the Czech based company EPH. FOE France plans to attend Rothschild’s annual general meeting on May 16 and request that it cease providing all financial services to the coal industry. (Reuters)

Asian coal price slide raises fresh doubts about Adani’s Australian project: The 40 per cent slump in the price of thermal coal in the Asia–Pacific market has analysts doubting that Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine will be viable in the near future. In January Adani claimed that the cost of coal from the Carmichael mine at the point of export would be A$54 a tonne (US$39 a tonne). Allowing for the lower coal quality compared to the current Newcastle benchmark, which is around US$86 per tonne, Wood Mackenzie analyst Victor Tanevski estimates the global price would have to be over US$100 per tonne for the project to be profitable. (Reuters)


Why coal ash and tailings dam disasters occur, Science, May 10, 2019.

This paper estimates that investigations of failed coal ash and other tailings dams have identified poor regulation and engineering practices are the most significant contributing factors.