Coal finance drying up, one country at a time

In the wake of last Saturday’s defeat, it’s important to remember that Australian politics is just one of many fronts in the struggle to stabilize the global climate and, in particular, to decarbonize electricity supply as rapidly as possible.

An important step in this process has been the push for financial institutions of all kinds: banks (public and private), pension funds, insurers and insurance brokers, corporate financial advisors and so on, to break with fossil fuels, starting with coal-fired electricity and thermal coal.

For a long while, victories in this effort were primarily symbolic. Ethical investors dumped coal, but there were plenty of others to take their place. A year or two ago, the process started to bite. The inability of Adani to find any outside finance for the Carmichael mine was an indication of things to come. By 2019, most global banks, export-import finance agencies and development banks had imposed restrictions on coal finance that were becoming increasingly stringent.

The great exception to this process was Asia where China, Japan, Korea and Singapore were all expanding their lending to coal projects in the developing world, even as they shifted towards renewable energy at home.

That’s changed quite suddenly. Beginning late last year, major Japanese banks have been adopting policies restricting lending to coal. The most recent instance is Mitsubishi UFG . Then, in the space of a month, all three of Singapore’s biggest banks followed suit. Now the focus of attention has shifted to Korea. Banks there are resisting pressure to divest, but it’s hard to imagine they can do so much longer.

That leaves China. Obviously there is not a lot of room for pressure from external groups or from civil society domestically. On the other hand, a situation where China is the sole source of funding for coal creates risks on both sides. For the banks, the implied overweighting of coal violates standard principles of financial risk management. For the borrowers, there is nowhere to turn for refinancing if China pulls the plug.

In these circumstances, it’s reasonable to expect that quite a few of the global coal projects currently being pushed by Chinese interests will not proceed. And sooner or later, this last source of money for coal will dry up.

54 thoughts on “Coal finance drying up, one country at a time

  1. jrkrideau

    I’m going to assume that you know how to use a search engine.

    I’m using DuckDuckGo, which does not record users’ search history: therefore, your results when using it should be identical to mine, or nearly so, subject to change only to the extent that the Web itself change.

    When I use ‘woodducked’ as my search term, I get reference sources with information about the actual bird, which is obviously no help. We’re searching for a slang meaning, right, not the literal one? So let’s try ‘slang’ and ‘wood duck’ as our search terms.

    The top hit I get tells me that ‘wood duck’ is Australian slang, deriving from the car sales industry, meaning ‘one who is easily duped; a naive customer; one who gives in easily in the bargaining’; in other words, as I understand it, a mark, sucker, patsy, sap, or chump.

    It’s then not hard to figure that ‘woodducked’ must mean ‘played for a sucker’.

    Disappointingly, even when I tell DuckDuckGo that I’m looking for slang, the second, third, fourth, and fifth hits still relate in one way or another to the literal meaning (the actual bird), but my sixth hit is another Australian slang reference which defines ‘wood duck’ as ‘a proverbial loser who tries to show they know everything but they never get anywhere’, which I suspect represents an extension from the original slang usage in the car sales industry, just as ‘patsy’, ‘sap’, and ‘chump’ can be extended from meaning a victim of a scam or con to meaning any loser. I haven’t found ‘wood duck’ listed in other Web sources on Australian slang, so I don’t think it’s common.

  2. Thanks. It never occured to me to use slang in the search term. I was using DDG but kept getting the bird not the word.

  3. @JamesW The Mundra bailout was a huge deal. But it seems to be dependent on Adani continuing to buy Indonesian coal. The increase in the Indonesian price was what drove Adani’s case for a higher electricity price, as I understand it.

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