New Delhi: As the world shifts to cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power, more than 4 lakh workers in the coal industry will lose their jobs by 2050, a report released by the Global Energy Monitor on October 10 says. Workers in China and India will be hardest hit – the report predicts that Coal India will cut down on more than 70,000 jobs by then.
The report throws light on how crucial a just transition to clean energy will be, experts said.
Coal jobs to be hit
Decarbonisation – reducing the carbon emissions produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels – is one of the main techniques advocated to keep global warming below specific levels so as to reduce the impacts of climate change (such as heat waves, intense rainfall and other extreme weather events) worldwide. One means of decarbonisation is to shift to cleaner forms of energy, such as solar and wind power, and decrease coal production by shutting down existing mines. But what of the coal mines that have to close down? The coal industry is a crucial source of livelihood, especially in rural areas in developing countries.
The Global Energy Monitor, a US-based NGO that compiles and publishes information on clean energy worldwide – including transitioning to such energy sources, compiled data on employment at 4,300 active and proposed coal mines and projects around the world that are cumulatively responsible for more than 90% of global coal production. This was done through the Global Coal Mine Tracker. The analysis included data from mines in 70 countries, including India, which has an estimated 3.3 lakh workers in coal mines.
The report finds that nearly 27 lakh coal miners produce 93% of the world’s coal, with the vast majority working in Asia (around 22 lakh jobs). By 2050, around 9.9 lakh coal mine jobs will no longer exist due to the closure of mines across the world. Over one-third of the existing workforce will face layoffs, even without climate pledges or policies to phase out coal. Currently, 4,14,200 workers operate mines that may reach their end of operation before 2035. So the layoffs by 2035 will affect on average 100 workers per day, per the report.
The vast majority of them are in Asia alone. The Global Energy Monitor report estimates that China and India will bear the brunt of layoffs as coal mines are closed down. China has more than 1.5 million coal miners who produce over 85% of its coal, which accounts for half of the world’s output. India is the world’s second-largest coal producer after China and the state-owned Coal India will face the most potential layoffs by 2050: an estimated 73,800 direct workers, per the report.
The report also finds that “most mines expected to close in the coming decades have no planning underway to extend the life of those operations or manage a transition to a post-coal economy”.
‘Regional balances are crucial’
“The coal industry has a long list of mines that will close in the near term – many of them state-owned enterprises with a government stake,” commented researcher Tiffany Means, one of the co-authors of the Global Energy Monitor report. “Governments need to shoulder their share of the burden to ensure a managed transition for those workers and communities as we move into a clean energy economy.”
A “just” transition involves, among other things, ensuring the rehabilitation of workers who have lost their jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation, a just transition is about “greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind”.
The report is “a wakeup call to the enormity of the problem at hand”, said Runa Sarkar, professor at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. “The coal mining region most affected by mine closure is West Bengal in India. Further, for every worker affected in the formal economy, at least four others are affected in the informal sector,” said Sarkar in a press release.
Currently, however, coal production is on the rise in the country, with talks of reopening some closed mines to meet current demand, she added. On the other hand, the Indian government in October 2022 also issued fresh guidelines on mine closure taking into account its associated ecological and socioeconomic complexities, she said.
“There is a lot of work around building a circular economy around coal which recognises that a coal mining township soon becomes about much more than about coal itself,” she commented.
“Finally, one must take into account that areas which are rich in coal are not the ones where the sun shines or the wind blows in abundance, which in turn implies a widening of regional imbalances as a result of mine closures. All this necessitates a more broad-based bottom-up discussion around energy transition to ensure one which is both regionally balanced, sustainable and just.”