Coal is a hot commodity again. Maybe too hot. The Russian incursion into Ukraine has interrupted production and shipment of energy resources; while Chinese power shortages are stoking the flame for more and more product.
Despite the Paris Agreement and a commitment by corporations to achieve sustainable operation and meet net-zero carbon goals, thermal coal is back to being mined and burned.
Asian thermal coal prices hit a new record this month, according to the Financial Times, driven by growing demand in Europe after the region banned imports of the fuel from Russia. The tight coal market threatens to compound the energy crisis in Europe, which is preparing to ramp up its reliance on coal-fired power stations to get through the winter.
Glencore is one company caught in the crossfire. In its sustainability report, the company states, “We take our responsibilities to our people, to society and to the environment seriously, and align our activities with the relevant international standards.”
That apparently does not sit well with environmental lawyers ClientEarth, who said they were supporting a complaint filed with Australia’s Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) against Glencore alleging that the miner and trader could be misleading investors and the public over its climate strategy.
Glencore has 16 operations in Queensland and New South Wales.
“Despite Glencore publicly claiming to have Paris-aligned decarbonisation plans in place, the legal review of Glencore’s activities reveals that the company is using a decarbonisation pathway that fails to represent its coal business, which is the largest driver of its emissions,” ClientEarth said.
Glencore told media enterprise IOL that, “We will review the materials and claims made by the EDO and their clients and are happy to assist ASIC and the ACCC with any enquiries they may have on these matters.”
The Glencore case is just one example of the conundrum being faced by nations and corporations all over the globe. In the face of the tragic and unprecedented invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent disruption of the international supply chain, how do we meet the energy needs of nations and shouldn’t corporations be allowed to help meet that need in unprecedented cases, even if it means straying from sustainability goals in the short term? After all, there is a human cost involved.
This is not the only case of this type and Glencore should not be held to an unrealistic standard here.
As it states in its Sustainability Report, “As one of the world’s largest diversified resource companies, we have a role to play in enabling the transition to a low-carbon economy. We seek to lower the carbon footprint of our own operations, and to support national programs to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
I still believe Glencore means it when it says that.
Mark S. Kuhar, editor