The Decline In Coal Appears To Have Been Exaggerated

By Felicity Bradstock, a freelance writer specializing in energy and finance. Originally published at 

  • Governments and international organizations have made ambitious pledges to reduce their emissions, a reduction that will require the phase-out of coal.
  • Despite these pledges, countries including the UK and Australia have announced plans to build new coal mines in order to boost energy security.
  • The major exception to a general trend of a decline in new coal mine development is China, which approved the equivalent of two new coal plants a week in 2022.

Despite big promises of a green transition and the creation of ambitious climate pledges, some countries are continuing to support the development of new coal mines. The U.K. and Australia both have coal facility plans that could go against their climate pledges, while there is no sign of slowing down China’s coal industry. So, just what does this mean for the green transition of these countries and globally?

In December 2022, the U.K. announced plans to build its first new coal mine in three decades. The $204 million project will be constructed in Whitehaven in Cumbria and is expected to produce 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal annually, as well as create 500 jobs. The plan is to export most of the coal produced, as the U.K. expects to increase its renewable energy capacity to stop the need for domestic coal use.

Many U.K. steelmakers have already stated that they will not be using coal from the development. And several European steel producers are also transitioning away from coal in response to mounting pressure from governments to decarbonize operations. Companies working in the heavy industry sector are now looking to renewable energy to power their facilities, where possible.

The mine is expected to produce 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, equivalent to around 200,000 car emissions. This will contribute heavily to the U.K.’s carbon emissions at a time when it is expected to shift away from carbon-intensive energy production in support of an accelerated green transition. Although the government has stated that the development is still possible within the scope of the U.K.’s climate legislation, with no doubt that it can achieve the net-zero scenario by 2050 following the closing of all coal operations by 2049. However, an analysis published in January suggested that this view is overly optimistic and that the coal project will likely break U.K. climate pledges.

Laura Clarke, the CEO of environmental law firm Client Earth, said the move is “unforgivable” and “Makes no sense in terms of the science, the economics, or indeed the UK’s legally binding netzero commitments.” This is a widely felt sentiment and many believe that the government will face a legal battle if it wants the development of the coal mine to go ahead.

In May, in Australia, the government approved a new coal mine for the first time since it was elected last year. The Isaac River mine will be constructed near Moranbah, in the Queensland Bowen basin, with a projected production capacity of 2.5 million tonnes of coal over five years. Much like the U.K. project, the development will be aimed at extracting coking coal used for steelmaking.

Environmental groups quickly responded to the news, asking the government to reconsider the mine as it does not align with Australia’s climate pledges. Several organizations have suggested that it could be detrimental to the habitats of several endangered species, such as the koala, the central greater glider, and the ornamental snake. If the development goes ahead, it could lead to the emission of 7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in its lifetime.

The approval of the mine came as a surprise to many, as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese won the 2022 election with his Labour government on his campaign for greater climate action. The government has announced the ambitious target of a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030, as well as introducing a carbon cap. However, Albanese is continuing to back new coal and gas projects, with the announcement of the approval of a $1.5 billion investment in Darwin harbor’s Middle Arm precinct, which could include two natural gas fields and petrochemical production, this month.

And we must not forget the world’s biggest coal player – China. In 2022, the Asian superpower approved the equivalent of two new coal plants a week, making its highest approval number since 2015. according to a study from earlier this year. Despite promises to cut its carbon emissions, China is continuing to rapidly build new power plants. The report from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) found that the coal power capacity starting construction in China was six times as large as that in all of the rest of the world combined.

Flora Champenois, a research analyst at GEM stated: “China continues to be the glaring exception to the ongoing global decline in coal plant development.” She added, “The speed at which projects progressed through permitting to construction in 2022 was extraordinary, with many projects sprouting up, gaining permits, obtaining financing and breaking ground apparently in a matter of months.”

Despite ambitious promises to transition away from fossil fuels, particularly the most polluting energy sources, several countries around the globe are continuing to invest heavily in the development of new coal projects. While the governments of the states assure the public that these projects will not hinder the achievement of their climate pledges, studies are repeatedly showing that this is not the case and that new coal projects are highly inconsistent with their carbon targets.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    Virtue-signaling of being anti-Russia meets the virtue-signaling of being anti-coal meets the virtue-signaling of being anti-fission.

    Virtue-signaling (driven by social media and “tyranny of the minority” NGOs) is the original sin of policy paralysis in the West.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Virtue-signaling of being anti-Russia meets the virtue-signaling of being anti-coal meets the virtue-signaling of being anti-fission.

      Heh. This definitely gets my vote as the comment of the day.

      And of course, there is an ancillary question that arises when energy shortages reveal the intellectual inconsistency of all this: Which “anti” is given up first? And we now know the answer. Anti-coal activists are pushed aside and we burn coal in record amounts. And my head hits the desk once again. Ouch.

      1. thousand points of green

        Here is a blog you might like, called The Ergosphere. The author, blog-named Engineer Poet, calls himself a Right Wing Environmentalist and seems to be some kind of energy and energy-efficiency engineer.

        Since I am just a layman, I lack the knowledge to really know how legit this is. I can only say that my instinct suggests this seems legitimate and no bullpoop. Maybe with your background you would really be able to know. His most recent posting is titled . . . ” Why batteries cannot address the intermittency issues of ‘renewables’ “. Here is the link.

  2. BeliTsari

    Used to do outages at 5 of the largest W/PA coal-fired power stations & this has gone on for four decades! They may or may not be phased out ’23-’28? Or, their dopplegangster duopoly keep subsidizing the Dickensian nightmares that caused “acid rain” to poison us ALL, though wind & PV are cheaper and this WAS the epicenter of fission & birth-place of directionally drilled slickwater fracking, since 2006? So, going by multinational conglomerate media & libertarian think-tank academia… WHO knows? They’ve never yet allowed mention of AGW, there! We’d Shippingport a lifetime ago. Built half the planet’s reactors. THAT sure helped shut down Coal & Gas (snark!)

  3. The Rev Kev

    I suppose the question of coal usage depends on the country involved. So for the UK there is the need of energy to run their economy and that they are aware that the glory days of energy from the North Sea are coming to a close. So that energy has to come from somewhere and there is all those coal mines that Maggie Thatcher closed in order to crush the workers just sitting there.

    Then there is Germany who also still needs energy after all the sanctions against energy from Russia. Ever since the “SS Minnow” blew up those pipelines, the need is becoming more acute. And since the Greens there forced the closing of the last three nuclear power stations, the need is getting desperate which is why they are opening up at least one coal mine.

    For Australia, it is a question of money. We have the coal and other countries need it. Our biggest customer is Japan for the simple reason that their entire country does not produce oil or coal and need it to run their economy. We also export to other countries and as much as it pollutes, if a coal mine blows up, it is not going to make a whole region of their country uninhabitable for generations to come-

  4. Mirko

    Here in Germany, coal consumption will have to increase, wind and sun only manage to supply Germany with energy independently around noon. A glance at the link is enough:,%22region%22:%22DE%22,%22from%22:1684447200000,%22to%22:1685397599999,%22moduleIds%22:%5B1000100,1000101,1000102,1000103,1000104,1000108,1000109,1000110,1000111,1000112,1000113,1000121,5000410,1001226,1001228,1001227,1001223,1001224,1001225,1004066,1004067,1004068,1004069,1004071,1004070%5D,%22selectedCategory%22:null,%22activeChart%22:true,%22style%22:%22color%22,%22categoriesModuleOrder%22:%7B%7D%7D

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Oh, wow. What a fascinating website. And from the charts, it’s quite apparent that the German power grid is experiencing huge swings in production that don’t line up very well with variations in demand. In particular, they manage to export some power during the solar peak, but import much greater amounts of power at night. [And this problem will NOT be solved by deploying more solar.]

      I suspect their neighbors find these giant swings in net power flow to be highly annoying, though I bet they’re charging the Germans a lot of money to ramp up their own dispatchable power generation assets to serve as the backup for Germany’s underpowered grid.

      This is undoubtedly a contributing factor to Germany holding the #3 position for the most expensive electricity on the planet: Ouch.

  5. spud

    is there anything, anything that is not absurd and contradictory about a environmentalist, that is for free trade, or ignores free trade!

    we must support china because they will help us go green say the frauds, but the solar panels will be made from a mountain of coal, then shipped with carbon spewing fuel, making those panels drenched in carbon.

    you can either be a environmentalist, or a free trade, but you cannot be both.

    1. tevhatch

      but the solar panels will be made from a mountain of coal, …
      They are going to be made with something… If those panels were made in the USA, then the coal content would be higher.

      1. some guy

        Why would the coal content of solar panels be higher if they were made in the US? ( I presume this means higher per unit of electric power yielded by the panels).

        What country produces solar panels with less coal per panel-yielded unit of power than America used to when America still made solar panels?

        1. tevhatch

          China has laid on more solar power in the last few years than USA and EU combined. Then there is the nuclear power and Hydro. Existing power can’t be used to generate new production processes, unless those existing customers are exterminated.

          1. some guy

            Yes, but . . . Why would the coal content of solar panels be higher if they were made in the US? ( I presume this means higher per unit of electric power yielded by the panels).

            What country produces solar panels with less coal per panel-yielded unit of power than America used to when America still made solar panels?

            1. tevhatch

              1. US coal plants are very inefficient as they use old technology poorly maintained, so the carbon content, Sulphur content, mercury content per kwh are extremely high.

              2. Do you have the number of your hypothetical, then I can check current production levels.

              1. some guy

                The problem is I don’t. So it is not even a hypothetical, but merely a question, interesting if answered but not demanding of an answer.

                If making solar panels in America would use gas power plants or nuclear power plants for electricity to make the panels, then the coal pollution would not be an issue. If it used coal plant electricity, then it would.

      2. spud

        but you are missing the point. how much fossil fuels will it take to make, and ship the panels to the u.s.? vs. made right here. far far less shipping for sure. on top of that, a lot of coal being burned in china for said production, is shipped from somewhere else. so yes, they are made in china under a mountain of coal.

        1. tevhatch

          Er, do you know where the minerals and sands come from? Do you think it’s more energy efficient to ship them?

          1. spud

            so the shipping of coal and minerals to china, then made in china, then shipped to the u.s.a. is more efficient?


            “Manufacturing all silicon solar panels to be deployed in the United States domestically would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 23% and energy use by 4% compared to outsourced manufacturing, according to a new analysis. The findings suggest that “reshoring” solar panel production could help the country decarbonize faster.”

            then lets talk about how free trade has destroyed the american economy through massive poverty, homelessness, and deaths of despair, let alone the massive debts incurred doing stupid things like imports when you can make it yourself, employ your own people with a lot less debt,

            i am with you some guy, it must stop now!

            1. tevhatch

              Yu mean China doesn’t have coal mines, that Indonesia and Australia are closer to the USA than to China, nor is it the largest producer of rare earth metals? Do you think the USA started using gas more and more because there is too much coal in in the ground, that it doesn’t already import it from South America? Watch what happens to imports when frack drains the last reasonably cheap gasp of gas.

              Madison was right about democracy after all, I guess.

              1. spud

                that still does not refute the facts that its far better for the world and the american people, that the panels as well as a lot of other stuff gets made here.

                the mere shipping alone of full ships one way, empty or half empty the other way, is a vast vast waste of fossil fuels, besides helping to supercharge carbon emissions.

                  1. some guy

                    Was the original question ever even answered?

                    How much coal did it take to make a solar panel in America? When America still made solar panels?

                    How much coal does it take to make the same solar panel in China?

                    Since, after all, here is what you wrote up above, copy-pasted here so I can be sure I repeat it exactly correctly . .

                    . . . ” but the solar panels will be made from a mountain of coal, …
                    They are going to be made with something… If those panels were made in the USA, then the coal content would be higher.”

                    “If those panels were made in the USA, then the coal content would be higher “. . .

                    okay, well . . . . back when those panels were made in the USA, was the coal content of those panels higher? I have to assume you mean “per panel” which would be the only logical apples-to-apples comparison here.

                    So, since you made the claim, do you have the figures on coal-use-per-panel in America then, as against coal-use-per-panel in China now?

                    1. spud

                      yea already answered him, so how can the goal posts get moved according to him? saying the homelessness, poverty and indebtedness free trade causes? all the more reason to build them here. the ridiculous amount of carbon creation alone is enough of a reason, but if you believe in a democratically controlled civil society, you would be repelled by the immorality alone.


                      [00:00:22.610] – Steve Keen [intro/music]

                      If you look at just the shipping involved in international trade, it’s something of the order of 20%, I think, of our carbon production comes out of the entire mechanics of shipping goods around the planet. And we realize we’ve massively overshot the capacity of the biosphere to support our industrial sedentary civilization. So, one way to reduce that is by reducing international trade.

    2. some guy

      We need a National Green Protectionist Party, under whatever its name might be. Although it may already be too late to matter, the effort deserves to be made as long as it does not divert too much energy away from building Survivalism, both individual and small-group civic.

      In fact, survivalists survivalizing might be the kind of people who could see eachother and also identify with a National Green Protectionist Party. National Greenism in One Country. And of course such a party would attract highly disgruntled former Democrats from the Democratic Party, and result in Republicans winning most or all elections for as many decades as are needed to exterminate the Democratic Party from existence in order to clear the field for a National Green Protectionist Party to fill the vacuum with its own growth and power.

      1. spud

        i think its to late. i think re-industrialization will be forced onto us after we hit bottom.

        1. some guy

          After we hit bottom, we will have nothing left to re-industrialize with. China’s goal for a post-hit-bottom America is for America to be China’s overseas Tibet, to be mined for whatever food and water and rock and mineral resources can still be grown here or mined here for shipping back to China.

          Maybe America’s hundreds of millions of legacy guns and billions of rounds of ammo in citizen-civilian hands may make it hard for China to Tibetanize a post-hit-bottom America. In which case, parts of what remains of America might still create a kind of lumpy eco-technic survivalist future of the kind that John Michael Greer has written about here and there.

          In the meantime, even if it is ” too late” to rescue and restore a smaller and slower America, the knowledge and ideas are worth spreading via a party-movement, however quixotic and hopeless in power-political terms it may be.

  6. scott s.

    Not sure I see the relationship of a coking coal mine in the UK to thermal coal used in power generation?

    1. some guy

      Me neither. Coking coal is for making coke with, and coke is for making steel with. Not electric power for a grid or heat for a building.

      What percent of the coal burned in the world is metallurgical /coking coal and what percent is thermal coal?
      If coking coal remains a small percent, and thermal coal use is shrinking, then this would appear to be a bait-and-switch sleight-of-mouth diversion from the specific issue of thermal coal specifically.

      And those 2 power plants a week in China are definitely thermal coal users.

    2. tevhatch

      I suspect the coking plant means steel, which for UK means weapons, which means huge carbon foot print, almost as bad as if it was going into SUVs.

  7. some guy

    Free-lance China/India geo-engineering projects look more and more likely, probably of the sulfuric acid particle shroud around the whole earth variety.

    ” As we starve and freeze and die,
    beneath a silver-yellow sky . . .”

  8. synoia

    Well, we need to admit that De carbonizing is Impossible, without societal collapse, and that intelligence as we practice it is an revolutionary dead end. Possibly we could survive as a species at a pre-industrial societies, although that was pretty grim, especially in the Cities.

    Having established that obvious fact, we are faced with runaway global warming, the end of civilization and and a significant population collapse.. This might explain why SETI has not discovered any other civilizations.

    Will the next apex predictor please raise their paws.

    1. tevhatch

      If it wasn’t carbon / complex chemicals driven climate change, it would have been something else. Das Capital.

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