Not amused: Trade unions across India are up in arms against the new coal auctions as workers fear they could lose their jobs to commercial mining firms | Photo: Star of Mysore

India: Centre auctioning 41 new coal blocks amidst mounting protests by trade unions

India is auctioning 41 new coal blocks under its campaign for “Atmanirbharta” (self-reliance) for the mining sector, and with peak output of 225 million tons (MT), the mines are expected to make up 15% of the country’s coal output for FY26. The auction is a major step towards opening up Indian coal mines for commercial mining and the process could fetch up to Rs. 30,000 crores (~USD 4.2 billion) over the next 5-7 years. Key industries such as steel, cement and power are targeted as the move’s beneficiaries — which will also reportedly generate 280,000 jobs. 

However, four of India’s most prominent trade unions have already started protesting and have demanded that the Centre roll back its plans to commercialise coal mines. The unions, INTUC, CITU, AITUC and BMS, also want that workers’ rights and their 200 days’ worth of guaranteed employment under MNREGA be protected, as these may also be trimmed by the Centre. The state of Jharkhand too has moved the Supreme Court as it protests the non-inclusion of states in the auction’s decision making process, while Chhattisgarh has red-flagged the blocks’ mining rights in its elephant-rich biodiversity hotspots. 

Australia fast-tracks $1 billion coalmine, coal’s global share drops to 16-year low

Australia has fast-tracked approval for the Glencore-backed, USD 1 billion Valeria mine in Queensland, which would be double the size of the Adani Carmichael mine. The Queensland govt. has backed the decision — despite heavy criticism over coal’s emissions and climate change’s impacts on the country — by saying that it was an “important and positive step” that would help Australia out of the economic shock of Covid-19. 

However, coal’s share in the global energy mix has fallen to 27% for the first time in 16 years over consumption dropping across Germany and the US. The numbers are from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 report and suggest that even in India, consumption grew by a mere 0.3%. However, China and Indonesia continue to be growth markets, even though the former could cap its coal capacity to 1,100 GW by 2020 and replace its existing units with newer, more efficient plants. 

Abandoned US wells leaking tons of methane, India to spearhead global gas demand

A new US EPA report to the UNFCCC suggests that abandoned 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the US leaked up to 28 kilotons of methane in 2018 — which is the equivalent of emissions from 16 million barrels of crude oil. In a number of cases the wells are also responsible for groundwater contamination, but globally the impact is reportedly much worse because of the estimated 29 million abandoned wells around the world, several of which are in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.