February 2020
Volume 72    Issue 2

Sustainable change of coal-mining regions

Kretschmann, Jürgen


Principally, mining natural resources is a finite business that reaches its limits once the deposits mined are depleted, the resources can no longer be mined in an economically profitable way or substitutes are pushing the mined products out of the market. An example of the latter is the increasing replacement of coal with natural gas and renewables in power generation in the United States [1]. According to the model of the product lifecycle, the global hard-coal mining industry has reached a stagnation phase [2]. The trend is obvious. Coal use peaked in 2013 [3], and the coal demand of China has been slowly decreasing since then [4]. Coal consumption in the United States saw a 16 percent decline from 726 Mt (800 million st) to 608 Mt (670 million st) between 2015 and 2019. In addition, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it will not rise again [5]. The decline is attributed to complex market dynamics, from low gas prices because of the “shale gas revolution” [6] to federal environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan. Moreover, important players like the United Nations and the European Union have already begun to describe pathways toward decarbonization. Increasing competition between coal-mining companies and the mining regions can be expected worldwide if companies want to keep their positions on the global and national coal markets. Companies will focus on the best deposits. European countries, like France, Spain or Germany, are only forerunners of this development — their centuries of coal production have passed. The concept of sustainable development (SD) is fundamentally based on a model of progress in which ecological, economic and social dimensions should be developed equally and positively. Questions arise, such as: How can SD be a corporate goal in a phase of decline? How can former mining regions sustainably progress to a better future? The steps Germany has taken to handle the coal decline in a sustainable way and the lessons learned from this process are described in this paper. 


Full-text paper:
Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, https://doi.org/10.1007/s42461-019-00151-2


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