Global energy transition could lead to loss of one million coal jobs: Report

By 2050, nearly 1 million coal mine jobs will no longer exist at operating mines given the coal industry’s foreseeable closures, potentially laying off over 37% of the existing workforce, the report says

A new report found that close to 100 coal mining jobs will be lost per day until 2035 as existing coal mines reach their end. Followed by China, India could be among the countries which, by 2050, will take the hardest hit in terms of losing coal mine jobs. 

According to the report, China’s Shanxi Province would be the most adversely affected by foreseeable mine closures, enduring 2,41,900 potential layoffs in the coal mining sector by mid-century. Then India could be hit the hardest when it comes to losing coal mine jobs, with Coal India facing the largest potential jobs cuts of 73,800 by mid-century. 

Nearly 2.7 million coal miners produce 93% of the world’s coal, with the vast majority working in Asia (2.2 million jobs). China, India, and Indonesia—the top three coal-producing countries—together have three times the number of coal miners as the rest of the world combined. In the longer term, the mining industry’s current operating practices and foreseeable mine closures could witness nearly 1 million job losses by 2050, the report added. 

The report said the coal industry is expected to shed nearly half a million mining jobs and 15% of the global workforce in just over a decade, even without climate commitments and coal phase-out policies. Those coal miners will remain vulnerable to layoffs and job losses, even in countries with no climate pledges.

If countries and companies were to pursue plans to phase down coal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, only one quarter of a million miners (2,52,200), would be necessary to maintain production worldwide, given the current global average labour productivity of 337 workers per million tonnes of coal produced. 

Only 6% (1,48,900) 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. However, even prior to making climate commitments to phase out coal, the world’s ten largest coal-producing companies could shed up to 2,43,100 coal mining jobs by 2050. 

While Coal India officially employs about 3,37,400 people, studies suggest there are four informal employees for every direct employee in India’s coal mining sector. This means India, which is yet to decide on the peak coal year and is continuing to increase coal production to ensure energy security, will need to pursue energy transition policies to absorb the shock and re-engage such workers elsewhere.

However, what is helping a country like India is that its renewable energy industry is adding jobs every year. According to IRENA’s report released at the end of September 2023, India has about 9,88,000 RE jobs in 2022. Of those, in fiscal year 2022 alone, India’s solar and wind industry added about 1,05,400 jobs. Going ahead, with India pursuing aggressive RE capacity installation, the jobs in RE (installation, operation and maintenance) are only going to increase. These jobs, however, may not be in the same geographies where coal mine jobs will be lost and thus comprehensive energy transition policies are needed.

Commenting on the same, Runa Sarkar, professor, Indian Institute of Management, said, “India, however, has yet to commit to a peaking year for coal production, and at present, coal production is on the rise, with talks of reopening some closed mines to meet current demand.  It is important to recognise that in the normal course of things a push towards efficiency in production would lead to process automation and a concomitant loss of jobs.  At the same time, in October, 2022, the Indian government has issued fresh guidelines on mine closure taking into account its associated ecological and socioeconomic complexities.  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.  Finally, one must take into account that areas which are rich in coal are not the ones where the sun shines or 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.”