Toward a global coal mining moratorium? A comparative analysis of coal mining policies in the USA, China, India and Australia

Abstract

To stop global warming at well below 2° C, the bulk of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground. Coal is the fossil fuel with the greatest proportion that cannot be used, and various advocacy groups are campaigning for a ban on the opening of new coal mines. Recently, both China and the USA implemented temporary moratoria on the approval of new coal mining leases. This article examines whether these coal mining bans reflect the emergence of a global norm to keep coal under the ground. To that end, we review recent coal mining policies in the four largest coal producers and explain them comparatively with a framework based on interests, ideas and institutions. We find that the norm of keeping coal in the ground remains essentially contested. Even in those countries that have introduced some form of a coal mining moratorium, the ban can easily be, or has already been, reversed. To the extent that the norm of keeping coal in the ground has momentum, it is primarily due to non-climate reasons: the Chinese moratorium was mostly an instance of industrial policy (aiming to protect Chinese coal companies and their workers from the overcapacity and low prices that are hitting the industry), while the USA’s lease restrictions were mainly motivated by concerns over fiscal justice. We do not find evidence of norm internalisation, which means that the emerging norm fails to gain much traction amid relevant national actors and other (large) coal producing states. If proponents of a moratorium succeed in framing the issue in non-climate terms, they should have a greater chance of building domestic political coalitions in favour of the norm.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    It is worth noting that this figure only gives an estimated 50% chance of staying with the 2 °C limit. Moreover, the figure assumes a widespread deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies as from 2025 onwards. If CCS is not widely deployed, the amount of unburnable coal rises to 88% (McGlade and Ekins 2015).

  2. 2.

    The full text of President Tong’s call is available from: http://www.climate.gov.ki/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CallForCoalMoratorium.pdf .

  3. 3.

    Moreover, they also account for over 72% of global coal consumption, so any sign of a change in mining policies is set to create waves in the global coal market. Yet, our interest here lies with the extraction policies of the named countries, not with their coal usage policies, although we consider potential linkages between the two.

  4. 4.

    Interview with Richard Denniss, Chief Economist, The Australia Institute, 29 August 2017. This would mean that the Galilee Basin, where the proposed Carmichael mine is located, would not be eligible for funding by Westpac. Three other large Australian banks had already distanced themselves from financing the Adani project prior to Westpac’s decision (Robertson 2017).

  5. 5.

    E.g., Adani (Indian company) and its attempts to open the Carmichael mine in Queensland, Australia.

  6. 6.

    Prior to 1992, the Ministry of Power, Coal and Non-Conventional Energy Sources consisted of three departments. In 1992, that ministry was split into the Ministry of Power, Ministry of Coal, and Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (rechristened the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in 2006), overseen by the same Minister and with interdependent competencies.

  7. 7.

    “No more coal mining licences due to harmful health effects, says Union Minister,” Myanmar Times, Feb. 13, 2017.

  8. 8.

    Many thanks to Richard Denniss for highlighting this.

References

  1. Baer HA (2016) The nexus of the coal industry and the state in Australia: historical dimensions and contemporary challenges. Energy Policy 99:194–202

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baker P (2017) Does Donald Trump Still Think Climate Change is a Hoax? No one Can say. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/us/politics/climate-change-trump-hoax-scott-pruitt.html. Accessed 28 August 2017

  3. Baldwin R, Cave M and Lodge M (2012) Understanding regulation: theory, strategy and practice. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  4. BP (2016) Statistical review of world energy 2017. BP, London

    Google Scholar 

  5. Clapp J, Swanston L (2009) Doing away with plastic shopping bags: international patterns of norm emergence and policy implementation. Environ 18(3):315–332

    Google Scholar 

  6. Connor LH (2016) Energy futures, state planning policies and coal mine contests in rural New South Wales. Energy Policy 99:233–241

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cornot-Gandolpe S (2017) Indonesia’s electricity demand and the coal sector: export or meet domestic demand? OIES Paper CL 5, March 2017. Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Oxford

  8. Denniss R (2015) Launch of No New Coal Mines. The Australia Institute. http://www.nonewcoalmines.org.au/launch_of_no_new_coal_mines. Accessed 11 September 2017

  9. Denniss R, Adams P, Campbell R, Grudnoff M (2016) Never gonna dig you up! Modelling the economic impacts of a moratorium on new coal mines. The Australia Institute, Canberra

    Google Scholar 

  10. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2017) Australia’s trade in goods and services 2016. http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/trade-investment/australias-trade-in-goods-and-services/Pages/australias-trade-in-goods-and-services-2016.aspx. Accessed 21 August 2017

  11. DOI (2017) Federal Coal Program. Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement – Scoping Report. Department of the Interior, Washington DC

  12. Duan H (2016) Windows of Opportunity: Coal Phase-Out in China. Paper presented at the International Conference on Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy, Oxford University, 26–27 September 2016

  13. Falkner R (2016) The Paris Agreement and the new logic of international climate politics. Int Aff 92(5):1107–1125

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Finnemore M, Sikkink K (1998) International norm dynamics and political change. Int Organ 52(4):887–917

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Florini A (1996) The evolution of international norms. Int Stud Q 40(3):363–389

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Grantham Institute (2015) Nicholas Stern welcomes initiative on coal mines by Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati. http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/news/nicholas-stern-welcomes-initiative-on-coal-mines-by-anote-tong-president-of-the-republic-of-kiribati. Accessed 25 August 2017

  17. Green F Anti-fossil fuel norms. Clim Chang (this issue)

  18. Guangyao Z (2016). Ecological Civilization. http://www.unep.org/ourplanet/march-2016/articles/ecological-civilization/ Accessed 7 July 2017

  19. Hall PA (1997) The role of interests, institutions, and ideas in the comparative political economy of the industrialized nations. In: Lichbach MI, Zuckerman AS (eds) Comparative politics: rationality, culture, and structure. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 174–207

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hornby L (2016) China coal protests highlight overcapacity tensions. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/1f8519fe-e8cd-11e5-bb79-2303682345c8. Accessed 1 March 2017

  21. Houle D, Lachapelle E, Purdon M (2015) Comparative politics of sub-Federal cap-and-Trade: implementing the western climate initiative. Global Environ Politics 15(3):49–73

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hurst D (2015) Malcolm Turnbull: coal export ban ‘would make no difference to emissions’. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/27/malcolm-turnbull-coal-export-ban-would-make-no-difference-to-emissions. Accessed 20 August 2016

  23. IEA (2015) World energy outlook 2015. IEA, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  24. ITC (2017) List of importers for the selected product: Coal, briquettes, ovoids and similar solid fuels manufactured from coal. ITC Trademap. http://trademap.org/Country_SelProduct_TS.aspx?nvpm=1|||||2701|||4|1|1|1|2|1|2|2|1. Accessed 2 March 2017

  25. Lahiri-Dutt K (2016) The diverse worlds of coal in India: energising the nation, energising livelihoods. Energy Policy 99:203–213

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lazarus M, Erickson P, Tempest K (2015) Supply-side climate policy: the road less taken. Stockholm Environment Institute, Seattle

    Google Scholar 

  27. Lucarelli B (2015) Australia’s black coal industry. Past achievements and future challenges. In: Thurber M C and Morse R K (eds) The global coal market: supplying the major fuel for emerging economies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 204–293

  28. Lucas A (2016) Stranded assets, externalities and carbon risk in the Australian coal industry: the case for contraction in a carbon-constrained world. Energy Res Soc Sci 11(1):53–66

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Marino J (2016) Wall Street checks out of coal mines. CNBC. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/16/wall-street-checks-out-of-coal-mines.html. Accessed 2 March 2017

  30. Mathews J, Tan H (2017) China’s new silk road: will it contribute to the export of the black fossil-fuelled economy? The Asia-Pacific J 15(8):1–14

    Google Scholar 

  31. McGlade C, Ekins P (2015) The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C. Nature 517:187–190

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. McNally CA (2012) Sino-capitalism: China’s reemergence and the international political economy. World Politics 64(4):741–776

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Milman O (2015) Josh Frydenberg puts ‘strong moral case’ for coal exports to prevent deaths. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/18/josh-frydenberg-puts-strong-moral-case-for-coal-exports-to-prevent-deaths. Accessed 7 July 2017

  34. Ministry of Coal (2016) All India Coal Production target for 2016–17 fixed at 724.71 MT. Delhi, Government of India

  35. NDRC (2015) Circular on Issues Concerning Strict Control of New Coal Mining Projects. http://www.sdpc.gov.cn/gzdt/201509/t20150918_751436.html. Accessed 16 February 2017

  36. Obama B (2017) The irreversible momentum of clean energy. Science. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aam6284

  37. Pacific Island Development Forum (2015) Suva Declaration on Climate Change. http://pacificidf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/PACIFIC-ISLAND-DEVELOPMENT-FORUM-SUVA-DECLARATION-ON-CLIMATE-CHANGE.v2.pdf. Accessed 16 February 2017

  38. Peng W (2015) The evolution of China’s coal institutions. In: Thurber C, Morse RK (eds) The global coal market: supplying the major fuel for emerging economies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 37–72

    Google Scholar 

  39. Piggot G (2017) The influence of social movements on policies that constrain fossil fuel supply. Clim Pol. https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2017.1394255

  40. Platts (2017) China’s 13th Five-Year Plan for coal industry aims for more industry consolidation. http://www.platts.com/latest-news/coal/hunan-china/chinas-13th-five-year-plan-for-coal-industry-27741744. Accessed 9 January 2017

  41. Purdon M (2015) Advancing comparative climate change politics: theory and method. Global Environ Politics 15(3):1–26

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Qi Y, Stern N, Wu T, Green F (2016) China’s post-coal growth. Nat Geosci 9(8):564–566

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Robertson J (2017) Big four banks distance themselves from Adani coalmine as Westpac rules out loan. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/28/big-four-banks-all-refuse-to-fund-adani-coalmine-after-westpac-rules-out-loan. Accessed 12 September 2017

  44. Rosewarne S (2016) The transnationalisation of the Indian coal economy and the Australian political economy: the fusion of regimes of accumulation? Energy Policy 99:214–223

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Secretary of the Interior (2016) Discretionary programmatic environmental impact statement to modernize the federal coal program. DOI, Washington DC

    Google Scholar 

  46. Shen L, Andrews-Speed P (2001) Economic analysis of reform policies for small coal mines in China. Resources Policy 27(4):247–254

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. State Council (2016) Coal capacity guideline issued. http://english.gov.cn/policies/latest_releases/2016/02/05/content_281475284701738.htm. Accessed 16 February 2017

  48. Stigler GJ (1971) The theory of economic regulation. Bell J Econ Manag Sci 2(1):3–21

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Taylor L (2015) Prominent Australians ask world leaders to consider ban on new coal mines. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/27/prominent-australians-ask-world-leaders-to-consider-ban-on-new-coalmines. Accessed 28 August 2017

  50. UNEP (2017) Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles. http://www.unep.org/transport/node/151/. Accessed 12 September 2017

  51. Urpelainen J, Van de Graaf T (2017) United States non-cooperation and the Paris agreement. Clim Pol. https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2017.1406843

  52. Van de Graaf T, Blondeel M (2018) Fossil fuel subsidy reform: an international norm perspective. In: Skovgaard J, van Asselt H (eds) The politics of fossil fuel subsidies and their reform. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  53. Ziman Y (2015) No new coal mines to be approved for three years to cut stockpiles. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2015-12/31/content_22877905.htm. Accessed 12 September 2017

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mathieu Blondeel.

Additional information

This article is part of a Special Issue on ‘Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy’ edited by Harro van Asselt and Michael Lazarus.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Blondeel, M., Van de Graaf, T. Toward a global coal mining moratorium? A comparative analysis of coal mining policies in the USA, China, India and Australia. Climatic Change 150, 89–101 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-2135-5

Download citation