In late 2021, diplomats spent hours arguing over whether to “phase-out” or “phase-down” coal in the final communique of the COP26 climate change summit. Under pressure from China and India, the watered-down second choice prevailed. Still, it was good enough for the United Nations to proclaim that the dirtiest fuel was being “consigned to history.”
Nothing is further from reality.
Coal is neither down or out. The best words to define the coal market today were pronounced in 2001 by Ivan Glasenberg, the former boss of commodity behemoth Glencore Plc. Back then, the colorful commodity tycoon said that “everyone’s h–ny as hell for coal.” Two decades later, in a more politically-correct world, one can simply say the coal industry is booming.
Look at the market. The benchmark thermal coal price in Asia last week jumped to almost $244 per metric ton, the second-highest ever and only a handful of dollars below a peak in October. In a sign of market frenzy — triggered in part by an export ban by major producer Indonesia — one small shipment last week traded above $300 a ton in what many in the market believe is the most expensive coal transaction ever. The coal that’s used in steelmaking — so-called metallurgical or coking — is also trading at a record high, changing hands above $400 per ton.