A new report has found that nearly half a million workers operate mines that may reach their end of operation before 2035, with site closures affecting on average 100 workers per day. 

The report, conducted by Global Energy Monitor, found that scheduled mine closures and a market shift toward cheaper wind and solar power generation are the cause of the prospective job layoffs. 

In addition to this, the report found that by 2050, nearly one million coal mine jobs (990,200) will no longer exist – including three-quarters of Australia’s – at operating mines given the coal industry’s foreseeable closures. These closures will potentially lay off more than one-third (37 per cent) of the existing workforce – even without climate pledges or policies to phase out coal.

Data from the Global Coal Mine Tracker provides a first-of-its-kind look into employment at 4,300 active and proposed coal mines and projects around the world that are cumulatively responsible for more than 90 per cent of global coal production. 

To estimate potential job losses, the Global Coal Mine Tracker records an operation’s reported life of mine.

Coal mining jobs have an outsize role in remote coal regions where they are anchors of economic activity and sustain ancillary workforces and employment in local consumer and information economies. 

The vast majority of these workers are in Asia (2.2 million jobs), with China and India expected to bear the brunt of coal mine closures. China has more than 1.5 million coal miners who produce over 85 per cent of its coal, which accounts for half of the world’s output. The northern provinces of Shanxi, Henan, and Inner Mongolia mine over one-quarter of the world’s coal and employ 32 per cent of the global mining workforce — approximately 870,400 people. 

The report found that Queensland will be one of the world’s hardest hit coal regions, after China’s Shanxi and Indonesia’s East Kalimantan, with Australia having a mere 51,000 people working directly in mines across the country. 

The coal industry itself shoulders responsibility for the sector’s unpredictable future. GEM has found that most mines expected to close in the coming decades have no planning underway to extend the life of those operations or to manage a transition into a post-coal economy.

Project Manager for the Global Coal Mine Tracker, Dorothy Mei, said, “Coal mine closures are inevitable, but economic hardship and social strife for workers is not. 

“Viable transition planning is happening, like in Spain where the country regularly reviews the ongoing impacts of decarbonisation. Governments should draw inspiration from its success in planning their own energy transition strategies.”

Coal Program Director, Ryan Driskell Tate, said, “We need to put workers first on the agenda if we want to make sure the transition isn’t just talk. With technologies and markets primed for an energy transition, we have to be proactive about the unique concerns of coal miners and their communities.” 

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