January 19, 2017
Issue 166  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Government policy responses - or lack thereof - to deadly air pollution events in which coal burning is big contributor have been on display over the past week. The stunning announcement that China will cancel 104 proposed coal plants – many already under construction – is a response to the January 2013 ‘airpocalypse’ and massive overcapacity in the power sector.

India on the other hand, has been gripped by appalling air pollution in recent weeks but the national government has yet to develop a coherent response. India is certainly pursuing a massive rollout of renewables and in the near future may rule out new coal plants beyond those already under construction.

Poland, long a recalcitrant defender of all things coal, has also been gripped by record-breaking pollution but persists with its anti-renewables policies and refuses to announce new policies to cut toxic air pollution levels. Poland has plans for a further six coal plants.

The health toll from coal could become far worse. A new study by Harvard and Greenpeace researchers has found that proposed coal plants Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea could cause an additional 50,000 premature deaths a year.

Bob Burton


China suspends 104 planned coal power plants

In a dramatic decision, China’s National Energy Administration has announced that 104 planned and under-construction coal power projects scattered across 13 provinces and with a combined capacity of over 120,000 megawatts (MW) have been suspended, writes Zachary Boren in Greenpeace’s EnergyDesk.

How to save 50,000 lives a year – cancel new coal plants in Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea

A new study by Harvard and Greenpeace researchers has found that cancelling new coal power development in Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea could save 50,000 lives per year by 2030, writes Lauri Myllyvirta in Greenpeace’s EnergyDesk.

Top News

Record breaking air pollution in Poland:  On January 8 air pollution levels in Warsaw and dozens of other cities reached the highest levels in the decade since monitoring equipment was installed. The record-breaking smog was caused by a combination of coal burning for home heating, car emissions and coal plants. Before the event, Polish Minister for Health, Konstanty Radziwill, described smog as “a theoretical problem” and claimed “there are no reasons for panic.” Subsequently Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said the government would reduce pollution but provided no details on how. (New York Times)

India’s air quality spirals down: A report by Greenpeace has found not a single city in northern India meets international air pollution standards. PM 2.5 pollution increased by 13 per cent between 2010 and 2015 - at a time pollution levels in China, US and Europe fell. The report estimates 1.2 million people a year die prematurely due to air pollution, marginally less than the death toll attributable to tobacco consumption. (Guardian)

Another coal ship sinks near Bangladesh’s Sundarbans World Heritage site: On January 13, 2017 the MV Aij Gati, which was carrying about 1000 tonnes of coal from South Africa, sank in the estuary of the Pashur River near the Sundarbans World Heritage Site, the world’s largest mangrove forest. The ship, which is believed to be in 100 metre deep water, has yet to be salvaged. In recent weeks protests have been held around the world against the construction of the proposed Rampal plant. The plant would require 10,000 tonnes a day of coal to be shipped through the Sundarbans. (Thirdpole, CoalSwarm)

Governor of Philippines ‘coal-free’ province alarmed about coal ash: Imee Marcos, the Governor of the province of Ilocos Norte, is concerned about the health hazards of coal waste. In August the province passed a resolution banning any government unit from assisting the development of coal projects. The province declared itself as “clean, green and coal-free” and “the undisputed wind energy capital of the Philippines.” About 50 per cent of the province’s electricity is from renewable energy. (Manila Times)

Colombian coal community activist murdered: In early January Aldemar Parra Garcia, president of the regional beekeeping association and leader of the El Hatillo peasant farmer community, was assassinated by two gunmen. The community was forcibly relocated due to severe air pollution from adjoining coal mines. No arrests have been made. Aldemar was a critic of coal mining in Cesar Department in the north of the country where the US company Drummond operates the La Loma mine. Glencore subsidiary Prodeco operates mines in the Calenturitas and La Jagua concessions. (London Mining Network)

Duke offers cash to settle polluted North Carolina water wells concerns: Duke Energy has offered to pay US$5000 in “goodwill” to up to 960 homeowners and businesses affected by water wells polluted by leaking coal ash dams. Duke Energy is also offering to pay between US$8000 and $22,000 to cover the costs of water bills for well owners who connect to public water lines as long as they agree not to sue the company. (Charlotte Observer)

Reports argue Germany needs to shut coal plants: A report by the Institute for Applied Ecology for the Federal Environment Agency argues Germany should close coal plants built before 1990 in order to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. A report published by WWF argues that for Germany to meet its Paris Agreement obligations it will need to start closing coal plants in 2019 and close all of them by 2035 at the latest. (Climate Home, WWF)


China: Poor visibility due to smog delayed up to 300 coal and iron ore ships from docking.

Kenya: Due to land titling anomalies the Mui Basin coal mine may dispossess women, without compensation.

Netherlands: Ministers deadlocked over coal plant phase-out, forcing Prime Minister to intervene.

Tanzania: Trial mining begins at Edenville’s Rukwa coal project with hopes pinned on power plant.

US: Coal supporters in Wyoming legislature promote bill to ban large-scale wind and solar power.

US: West Virginia coal baron refuses to divest coal and other investments despite becoming Governor.

Companies + Markets

Coal India restarts global coal mine quest: Coal India has called for expressions of interest from international banks interested in assisting the publicly-owned company in “acquiring coal assets” in the US, Colombia, Canada, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa. Coal India specifies it is seeking to buy or invest in coking coal and high-grade low ash thermal coal mines “because of limited availability of techno-commercially recoverable coking coal reserves and near absence of high-grade low ash thermal coal reserves in the country.” Expressions of interest close on February 13. (Livemint, Coal India)

India’s coal imports crash in December: India’s coal imports fell by 25 per cent in December compared to the year before due to greater availability of domestic coal and public sector power utilities ending use of imported coal. Imports were marginally up on November levels as non-power sector buyers restocked as prices on the global market fell. (Economic Times)

Moody’s upgrades Indian power sector outlook: Financial analyst firm Moody’s has upgraded its outlook for the Indian power sector from negative to stable on the increased availability of domestic coal and the financial restructuring of the state distribution utilities.  Moody’s Indian affiliate, ICRA, believes the increased ability of the distribution utilities to pay for power purchases will lead to a “modest improvement” in plant load factors for independent power producers. (Moody’s)

Colombia’s coal exports climb, Cerrejon’s fall: Coal exports from Colombia increased to 88.1 million tonnes in 2016, a nine per cent increase on 2015. While exports to the UK all but collapsed and shipments to the Netherlands declined marginally, sales to Turkey increased by 38 per cent to 15.9 million tonnes. However, exports by Cerrejon – the largest producer – declined by 3.6 per cent to 32 million tonnes. In late 2014 Cerrejon – a joint venture of BHP Billiton, Glencore and Anglo American – completed a US$1.3 billion expansion project to increase export capacity from 32 to 40 million tonnes a year. (Platts, Mining Weekly)

Banks back end to Peabody bankruptcy; ex-executive doesn’t: Peabody Energy has secured US$1.5 billion in funding from a consortium of banks led by Goldman Sachs for its bankruptcy restructuring plan. In April 2016 Peabody entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy to allow it to restructure its US$8 billion in debts. However, how it proposes to cover its US$1 billion liability for rehabilitation costs previously covered by self-bonding remains unclear. The proposed restructuring plan has angered the company’s former PR executive, Fred Palmer, whose shares and pension plan would be rendered worthless. (Reuters, St Louis Post Dispatch)

Mitsubishi gets go-ahead for new Vietnam plant: During a two day visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Vietnamese Government finalised the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) contract for the construction of the proposed 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 plant by a consortium led by Mitsubishi. The plant was first proposed in 2007 and the BOT contract with Mitsubishi was initially granted in 2014 but delayed pending changes. The project has yet to gain finance. (Tuoitrenews, CoalSwarm)


Airpocalypse: Assessment of Air Pollution in Indian Cities, Greenpeace India, January 2017. (Pdf)

This 40-page report analyses data from India’s 18 state pollution control boards and finds few locations in the country comply with air quality standards, with pollution worsening rapidly.

Burden of Disease from Rising Coal-Fired Power Plant Emissions in Southeast Asia, Environmental Science & Technology, January 12, 2017. (Abstract)

This paper calculates the number of premature deaths due to the projected increase in coal plant emissions in Southeast Asia, with the largest increases occurring in Indonesia and Vietnam.

Germany’s Electric Future, WWF Germany, January 2017. (Pdf) (Summary; the full report in German is here.)

This 9-page summary outlines a proposed pathway for phasing out Germany’s fleet of coal plants by 2035 within a ‘carbon budget’ derived from the 2°C temperature increase limit (but not the 1.5°C goal) embodied in the Paris Agreement.

Financial Assurances for Reclamation: Federal Regulations and Policies for Selected Mining and Energy Development Activities, US Government Accountability Office, January 2017. (Pdf)

This 13-page report provides a comparison between the types of financial assurances for rehabilitation required of the oil and gas, hard rock mining, renewable energy projects and coal mining. Coal companies are the only ones allowed to self-bond.