THE Hunter's largest coal miner Glencore will cap its global coal output at current levels in the wake of pressure from activist shareholders as part of a pivot towards minerals used in renewable technologies.
The miner announced on Wednesday night that, while it will continue mining thermal coal, which is used in power stations, and coking coal, which is used for making steel, it will limit production to current levels.
Glencore will instead focus on metals such as cobalt, nickel, vanadium and zinc, which are all key components of batteries as it targetted lower carbon industries as its customers.
"We aim to prioritise capital investment to grow production of commodities essential to the energy and mobility transition and to limit our coal production capacity broadly to current levels," the company said as part of its results announcement.
Glencore set its guidance for 2019 at 145 million tonnes of coal globally. Glencore said it would examine its membership of trade associations to ensure those groups aligned with the Paris climate agreement and Paris goals. These associations include the Minerals Council of Australia.
The company told investors that it recognised the increasing risks associated with climate change.
"To deliver a strong investment case to our shareholders, we must invest in assets that will be resilient to regulatory, physical and operational risks related to climate change," a company statement said.
In 2017, Glencore became Australia's largest coal miner after it acquired 49 per cent of Rio Tinto’s Hunter Valley Operations for about $US1.14 billion ($1.59 billion). It then bought Rio Tinto's interest in Queensland coal mines giving it a total local output of more than 88 million tonnes.
Its Hunter assets also include mines at Bulga, Liddell, Mangoola, Integra, Mount Owen and Ravensworth.
The deals have helped put Glencore in a dominant position in the Asia Pacific market for high-quality thermal coal.
In 2017 Glencore's climate change report the company predicted continued global investment in coal-fired power with around 220 new coal-fired generators to be built over the next 15 years particularly in the local region.
Around two-thirds of Glencore’s mining operations are in Australia, with the rest in South Africa and Colombia.
The Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, which is part of a global network of activist investors, said the decision was part of a shift away from coal.
“Today Glencore has signalled the death knell for the [thermal] coal industry. This announcement precludes new mines, acquisitions and expansions - an incredible step for a company that paid US$1.14 billion for Rio Tinto’s Hunter Valley coal mines just 18 months ago," ACCR spokesman Dan Gocher said.
"This announcement will also reverberate around state parliaments, and in Canberra. Governments can no longer budget on the infinite flow of revenues from coal exports."
The development comes amid a deepening political stoush over the planned Adani mega-mine at Carmichael in Queensland which the state Labor government is opposing in a move that has caused a split with the mining union.
Federal Minister for Resources Matt Canavan attacked Labor over comments by opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles that it was a "good thing" if the coal industry was in decline.
"Richard Marles is hopelessly wrong. He said that global thermal coal markets were 'collapsing'. Last year, there was a record amount of coal-fired power generated across the globe, coal is now our biggest export again and coal prices are near record highs - helping to support the budget," Mr Canavan said.
Labor frontbencher Richard Marles had told Sky News that the declining price was positive because it meant "the world is acting in relation to climate change".
The price of thermal coal in Australia recently fell to a 19 month low.
"The benchmark Newcastle high energy thermal coal price has fallen from $US100 per tonne at the turn of the new year to $US88 per tonne," Wood Mackenzie analyst Viktor Tanevski said this week in a note to clients.
"On a price standpoint, we expect prices to recover and average $US98 per tonne this year, down from $US107 per tonne last year. Prices will remain elevated in 2019 given fundamental support for high energy thermal coal."
Environmental group Lock the Gate Alliance welcomed Glencore's move, saying "the decision makes sense at a time when the world is warming at an alarming rate due in large part to the burning of coal".
"This is a very significant move, and we’d like to see Glencore act immediately to withdraw from the proposed Wandoan coal project in Queensland and the United Wambo project in the Hunter Valley," said spokeswoman Georgina Woods.
"Both mines would make a massive contribution to global warming, as well as causing major damage to land and water and harming communities, and should be shelved permanently and not sold on to another company.
"These two mines will be the real test of Glencore’s decision as to whether they are committed to real action.
"Regardless of what happens next, this move by Glencore today reinforces the recent legal decision to stop the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine near Gloucester based on downstream emissions, and should send a warning to the NSW Minerals Council that it is time to get on board with mainstream views and support the court’s decision and broader action on climate change.”