The latest monthly statistics from coal loader company Port Waratah Coal Services show exports from its Kooragang Island and Carrington terminals are down by 5 per cent to the end of October, compared with 2019.
PWCS and the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator have reduced the amount of export information they publish on their websites, bringing them closer in line with the Port of Newcastle's other loader operator, Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group, which has not publicly displayed its weekly or monthly totals in the decade of its existence.
The most recent publicly available figures for NCIG - ABS data published in September - shows it shipping slightly more coal to the end of July than in 2019, so the overall picture for the port remains unclear.
The Hunter coal industry has been hit with a welter of sobering announcements in recent weeks, led by a new target of "zero emissions by 2050" from the industry's largest customer nation, Japan.
Widely described as putting the Hunter coal industry "on notice", the Japanese push comes on top of political pressure from China, which has restricted - the South China Morning Post says 'banned" - imports of Australian coal as part of a political stand-off between the two nations.
Thermal coal prices have risen recently but remain down on this time last year, and coking coal exports to China are reportedly at their lowest levels for eight years.
COVID is also cited as a short-term factor reducing coal demand, but members of the newly formed Hunter Jobs Alliance say the trend is unmistakably down and that the region needs to prepare now for a coal decline that is already well under way, with a range of damaging impacts if nothing is done to manage the transition.