Coal is dead, report claims

By Laura Mills

A report commissioned by an anti-coal group says the industry is in terminal decline, financial institutions are already divesting their coal investments and climate change targets mean the world has started to turn its back on ‘king coal’.
The Coal Action Network today released the report ‘Jobs After Coal’, partly written by conservationist Rosemary Penwarden, who noted that around the world, the industry was contracting, prices had fallen and demand shifting to renewable resources.
“Coal is a sunset industry,” the report concludes.
While mining jobs were well-paid, coalmining did not produce prosperous communities — in fact they had lower incomes and higher unemployment. “One explanation is that this reflects the fact that many of the higher-paid workers commute long distances — for example, from top of the south to the West Coast — and that many communities close to the mines are not places favoured by those who can afford to live elsewhere,” the report says.
In 2012, 360 jobs went at Spring Creek Mine, not long after a similar number were lost in the wake of the Pike River Mine disaster.
The report said Coast coal depended on the world coking coal market for steel making. That market had been severely impacted by China’s recently announced plan for energy consumption to peak at four billion tonnes of coal equivalent within the current five-year-plan. China was also closing steel mills as it moved to recycling scrap.
The report said citizens were pressuring their pension funds to divest from fossil fuels. Last year, several major financial institutions recognised the financial and ethical implications of continuing to finance fossil fuels, with Norwegian Storebrand, Rabobank and the World Bank among those that made major announcements on divestment or cutting loans associated with coal.
Ms Penwarden said there had to be a ‘line in the sand’ for the end of coal in New Zealand, and a plan for the day that this happened.
“The sooner we prepare for a future where mining towns can determine their own paths without dependence on the vagaries of a dying industry, the better.”
West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor said the realities of the report could not be denied.
The reality was that the coal industry could leave the Coast with massive job losses and low incomes.
The way forward was smart utilisation of the resource, pushing high quality coal in higher value markets, if possible.
Existing jobs should be retained, and Solid Energy should shift more jobs to the Coast, he said.
The Coal Action Network, which commissioned the report, has a central policy of making New Zealand coal-free by 2027, the date when most permits for current big mines run out.