Coal Industry’s Looming Crisis: China and India’s Massive Workforce Vulnerable by 2050

Coal Industry

India, the world’s second-largest coal producer, is facing potential layoffs of 73,800 direct workers by 2050, according to a report by state-owned Coal India. The report suggests that close to a million coal mine jobs, or more than a third of the coal mining workforce, could disappear by 2050, with the majority expected in Asia, especially in China and India.

The think tank Global Energy Monitor (GEM) said that on average, 100 coal miners a day could face job cuts as the coal industry winds down due to a market shift towards cheaper renewables and planned mine closures. GEM also predicted that nearly half a million workers may lose their jobs before 2035, irrespective of coal phase-out strategies or climate action. In Asia, more than 2.2 million people work in coal mines, with China leading the way. The report highlights the need for a shift in the coal industry to more economical options.

China, home to over 1.5 million coal miners, generates over 85% of the nation’s coal, accounting for half of global coal production. The country is followed by India and Indonesia, with Indonesia expected to boost production enough to rival India’s output for the first time next year. The Global Coal Mine Tracker predicts that China’s Shanxi province will lose about a quarter million mine jobs by midcentury.

The report cites data from the Global Coal Mine Tracker, which offers live information about 4,300 active and proposed coal mines globally, accounting for over 90% of the world’s coal production. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius under the Paris Agreement’s guidelines, GEM estimates that only 250,000 coal miners would be needed, which is less than 10% of the current workforce.

Coal mine jobs also significantly influence local economies, as mining towns often depend heavily on coal companies for wages, taxes, and even schools or hospitals. Workers deserve a “just transition” to new employment sectors, especially those offering well-compensated positions in clean and renewable energy.

The company, GEM, aims to increase its clean energy capacity to over 50% by 2025, aiming to align with government goals. However, following a year of devastating mining accidents, labour disputes, and public opposition, it is crucial for coal miners to be given a chance to seek a safer and more sustainable future.

The China Labor Bulletin recorded 69 coal mine-associated incidents and fatalities in 2022, with 23 reported in the current year. Ryan Driskell Tate, GEM’s program director for coal, believes that the coal industry has a notoriously bad reputation for its treatment of workers. Proactive planning for workers and coal communities is needed to ensure industry and governments remain accountable to those who have borne the brunt for so long.

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