Almost half a million jobs will be cut in the coal industry by 2035, even without climate commitments and coal phaseout policies, as the market shifts toward renewable energy.
That’s what the nonprofit Global Energy Monitor (GEM) asserted in its new report, which was based on the organization’s Global Coal Mine Tracker and looked into employment at 4,300 active and proposed coal mines and projects around the world that are cumulatively responsible for more than 90 percent of global coal production.
In its report, GEM said that an average of 100 workers per day face potential unemployment in just over a decade. Most of these workers are in Asia, which employs 2.2 million coal workers, with China and India expected to bear the brunt of coal mine closures.
China has more than 1.5 million coal miners who produce over 85 percent of its coal, which accounts for half of the world’s output. The northern provinces of Shanxi, Henan, and Inner Mongolia mine over one-quarter of the world’s coal and employ 32 percent of the global mining workforce, or approximately 870,400 people, according to the report.
India, on the other hand, officially employs approximately 337,400 miners at its operating mines, though some studies suggest the local mining sector has four “informal” employees for every direct employee, the report stated.
Only 6 percent, or 148,900, of the coal miners working at thermal and mixed-grade mines are covered under current climate pledges by or before midcentury, necessitating widespread transition planning in the coming years, the report said.
To mitigate mass layoffs, the report recommended that coal companies and governments help their employees shift to other careers within the energy sector or other low-carbon industrial sectors. “Coal companies can prevent sudden shocks to workers and coal communities if they take proactive steps to plan for mine closures associated with the anticipated end of a life of mine. One such step toward a fresh lease on life for miners is to offer them priority consideration for job opportunities triggered by mine closures. For example, coal mine reclamation, the rehabilitation of land after coal mining operations have ceased, emerges as a promising prospect and serves as a bridge to employment for numerous workers facing abrupt layoffs”, the report suggested.
Employment transition programs into the renewable energy sector could also help, but may necessitate the acquisition of fresh skillsets or engagement in different crafts”, the report continued, adding that “miners transitioning into the renewables workforce can look forward to a high degree of job security”.
The report also urges governments to have just transition policies in place for coal workers. In 2021, the International Partners Group launched the first Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs), which are agreements in which wealthier nations financially empower coal-dependent developing nations to transition towards clean energy. “Yet the creation of these just transition arrangements has arrived less than eight years before 2030—the year the international community needs to collectively halve global greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 [degrees Celsius] under the Paris Agreement. The planning is overdue and necessitates careful spadework to ensure ‘untried’ initiatives live up to their full potential to support workers in the world’s coal-producing powerhouse”, the report argued.
“JETPs present significant potential for assisting emerging economies in managing energy transitions. However, the financial support provided by JETPs falls significantly short of the actual funding required”, the report continued. “It’s crucial to underscore that the welfare of individuals must be given paramount importance throughout this transformative process”, the report concluded.
“Coal mine closures are inevitable, but economic hardship and social strife for workers is not”, Global Coal Mine Tracker Project Manager Dorothy Mei said in a news release accompanying the report. “Viable transition planning is happening, like in Spain where the country regularly reviews the ongoing impacts of decarbonization. Governments should draw inspiration from its success in planning their own just energy transition strategies”.
“We need to put workers first on the agenda if we want to make sure the just transition isn’t just talk. With technologies and markets primed for an energy transition, we have to be proactive about the unique concerns of coal miners and their communities”, GEM Coal Program Director Ryan Driskell Tate said.
According to its website, GEM is a mission-driven nonprofit organization, with the majority of its funding coming in the form of charitable donations from foundations and individuals. Its mission is to develop and share information in support of the worldwide movement for clean energy.
The Global Coal Mine Tracker is a worldwide dataset of coal mines and proposed projects. The tracker provides asset-level details on ownership structure, development stage and status, coal type, production, workforce size, reserves and resources, methane emissions, geolocation, and over 30 other categories.
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