Queensland will be one of the world’s hardest hit coal regions, after China’s Shanxi and Indonesia’s East Kalimantan, a global report on the future of the sector shows.
Nearly half a million coal miners are expected to lose their jobs by 2035 as old mines are depleted, according to a report released on Tuesday by independent energy researchers at United States-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM).
As the largest source of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, coal is the first fuel type expected to be phased out in coming decades.
This means the time frame for being out of a job falls within the career of a coal miner working today, including many of the 2000 at Mount Arthur in NSW that will close by 2030.
Coal has also served as the economic bedrock for entire communities, requiring a transition plan that extends beyond the pit to small businesses and workshops, empty shopping malls, depleted schools and new housing needs.
“Coal mine closures are inevitable, but economic hardship and social strife for workers is not,” coal tracker project manager Dorothy Mei said.
Based on mines in operation, almost one million (990,200) coal mine jobs will no longer exist by 2050 – including three-quarters of Australia’s.
The workforce tally in the coal mine tracker includes various skills and processes, including technicians, mechanics, engineers, electricians, machinists, drillers, haul truck drivers, excavator operators, carpenters, and blasting.
While most projections show the transition to renewable energy will create millions more jobs, those jobs may not be in the same communities and may require extensive retraining.
The call for a “just transition” for coal workers began decades ago amid job losses from mechanisation, automation, outsourcing and offshoring of jobs to cheaper locations.
Global warming, emissions reduction pledges and community outcry over new coal mining are behind more recent calls for support for coal workers to transition into new jobs.
“The coal industry itself shoulders the responsibility for the sector’s unpredictable future,” the report said.
Yet most mines expected to close in the coming decades had no planning under way to extend the life of those operations or manage a transition to a post-coal economy, researchers found.
Despite being a leading coal producer, heavily mechanised Australia has a mere 51,000 working directly in the mines.
Mechanised mines use drone monitoring, driverless haul trucks, conveyor systems and automated longwall machines, which means there are 98 workers employed for each tonne of coal produced in Australia, compared to 404 in China or 822 in Poland.
Australia is also among leaders in prolonging coal operations, the report found.
Operations actively pursuing approvals for extending the life of a coal mine were mostly in China (36), Australia (21), India (15), and Russia (13).
(Australian Associated Press)