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Coal
Coal & Uranium  
10 November 2017

German NGO database encourages divestment in the coal sector

A German environment NGO has published a database of over 770 coal-focused companies designed as a divestment tool for the finance industry.

At the UN Climate Summit in Bonn, NGO Urgewald and its partners announced the publication of the “Global Coal Exit List” (GCEL), a comprehensive database of companies participating in the thermal coal value chain.

The GCEL provides key statistics on over 770 companies whose activities range from coal exploration and mining, coal trading and transport, to coal power generation and manufacturing of coal plants.[1]

“We developed the GCEL to provide the finance industry with a concise list of companies that should be divested,” says Heffa Schuecking, director of Urgewald. “Keeping to a 1.5°C pathway will be impossible unless banks and investors make a speedy and full exit from investments in the coal industry.”

But to do so, they must know who the industry is. “It is not always easy to identify coal companies. They can hide behind names like ‘Lemur Resources’, ‘Silver Unicorn Trading’ or ‘Africa China Sunlight Energy’,” explains Schuecking.

The GCEL provides key statistics on companies’ annual coal production and coal share of revenue, their installed coal-fired capacity and coal share of power production. These statistics were drawn from original company sources such as annual reports, investor presentations and company websites. All in all, the companies listed in the GCEL represent over 88% of world coal production and 86% of the world’s coal-fired capacity.

The GCEL also provides information on companies’ plans to expand coal mining or develop new coal-fired power stations. It is thus the first “forward-looking” coal divestment tool. The GCEL identifies 225 companies that are planning to expand coal mining and 282 companies that are planning new coal-fired power stations.[3]

“We’ve discovered that a significant portion of these companies are not traditional coal industry players,” says Schuecking. A typical example is Marubeni – a huge diversified Japanese trading house, but also the world’s 26th largest coal plant developer with plans to build over 5 800 MW of new coal plants in nine countries.

In contrast to most other coal databases, the GCEL is not limited to coal miners and coal-based utilities, but also lists over 200 so-called ‘service’ companies.

Among the ‘service’ companies featured in the GCEL are Australia’s largest coal transporter, Aurizon, and the Chinese company Harbin Electric, which is the world’s largest coal plant manufacturer. Such ‘service’ companies often play a key role for the expansion of the coal industry.

The GCEL not only maps out which companies have a coal share of revenue or coal share of power generation above 30%, it also lists all companies which produce over 20 million tons of coal annually or operate more than 10 000 MW of coal-fired capacity.[5]

"If we are serious about limiting global warming to 1.5°C, percentage criteria are simply not enough. Divestment actions must also be based on absolute thresholds that exclude all of the top coal producers and top coal plant operators,” says Schuecking.

Out of the 328 coal miners profiled in the GCEL, 30 companies account for over half of the world’s annual coal production. Many of these top coal producers are not captured by the percentage criteria investors base divestment actions on. Only 11 of these 30 companies have a coal share of revenue, which is above 50%. And only 20 have a coal share of revenue above 30%.

Out of the 324 coal plant operators profiled in the GCEL, the top 31 companies own over half of the world’s installed coal-fired capacity. Almost a third of these companies, however, have a coal share of power generation, which is less than 50%. “As even the most progressive bank policies only exclude companies if 50% or more of their power generation is coal-fired, new standards need to be adopted. Investments in top coal plant operators are invariably investments in a 4°C world,” says Yann Louvel from the NGO BankTrack.

There are currently still over 1 600 new coal plants in the pipeline.[6] If built, these would expand the world’s coal-fired power capacity by a staggering 42.7%. The GCEL identifies 87% of the companies behind these plans, but it also shows the need for a new approach to coal divestment.

Out of the top 120 companies planning new coal power stations, only about half have a coal share of power production above 30%.

South Africa the coal kingdom of the African continent

19 of the 39 African coal companies featured on the GCEL are based here. With 38 548 MW installed coal capacity, South Africa’s utility Eskom is the 8th biggest coal power operator worldwide. Its plans to develop an additional 9 440 MW of new coal-fired capacity also make it the biggest expansionist on the continent.

Africa’s biggest coal producers are Exxaro (43 Mt) and Sasol (40 Mt).

The database and charts on the coal industry can be viewed at: www.coalexit.org.

Footnote key:

[1] Out of the 775 companies featured in the GCEL 218 mine coal, 214 operate coal plants, and 110 operate both coal mines and coal power plants. The remaining 233 companies provide various services throughout the coal value chain.

[3] These numbers overlap as 70 companies are planning both new coal mines and new coal power plants. The total number of companies with expansion plans in the coal industry is thus 437.

[5] The absolute threshold the GCEL applies is very high: 20 million tons is the entire annual coal consumption of a country like Italy. As not all utilities report on their coal consumption, however, the GCEL also uses a 10,000 MW threshold. Utilities with an installed coal capacity of 10,000 MW invariably burn over 20 million tons of coal per year.

[6] These numbers are based on CoalSwarm’s „Global Coal Plant Tracker“, which maps all proposed and existing coal-fired power stations worldwide.

Feature image credit: www.123rf.com

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