Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately-owned coal company, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US, becoming the 50th coal company to do so since 2012.
The company blames “prolonged industry downturn” on its predicament, hinting at the structural decline the coal industry is in, but fails to admit how its willful denial of climate change and refusal to move with the rest of the world towards a low carbon economy has destroyed its business.
Investment in renewables has outstripped fossil fuels in recent years, with more and more clean energy coming online.
When combined with the historic Paris Agreement last year, it is becoming abundantly clear that there is no place in a low carbon future for companies like Peabody Energy, and strong questions are now being raised around whether it and others like it can fulfill their obligations to workers and affected communities and clean up the mess their mines have left behind.
- Peabody bet its house on coal, but it is workers, communities, and taxpayers that will pick up the tab. As a pure-play coal company, Peabody was unwilling to accept the decline of its industry, and instead of planning for the future it put its effort into climate denial, pushing coal on the world’s poor, and faking social media campaigns to pressure politicians. In 2011 Peabody Energy was worth almost $20 billion, but today it filed for bankruptcy with $6.3 billion of debt. This collapse now risks leaving workers and local communities high and dry, and taxpayers on the hook for mine clean ups.
- Renewables are the future, and it’s a healthier, wealthier future for all. Renewable energy is already far outstripping coal in investment and new capacity globally; and this trend will continue as technology improves and countries increase climate action, boosting GDP, creating new jobs, saving millions of lives and increasing access to energy. . Coal’s only answer has been the misnomer of “clean coal” but this fails to solve the many issues it comes bundled with, such as human rights abuses, and health impacts.
- The zero carbon transition is inevitable, and happening increasingly fast. As Peabody’s case makes clear, some fossil fuel companies are delusional about the change happening before their eyes, and are at risk of absconding from their responsibilities. As governments look to turn their Paris pledges in action, their first step should be urgent measures to keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground and ensure a smooth transition that protects workers, communities and taxpayers.