Coal prices turn off investors – by Amanda Saunders (Sydney Morning Herald – September 25, 2015)

First it was tobacco, then alcohol, gambling, then asbestos. Sugar might also be on the nose for investors. But right now it is hard to find a more loathed sector than coal.

Not only are the forces of environmentalists lining up against the commodity. But there seems to be no end in sight for depressed prices.

The gas industry turned rogue on their counterparts in coal a few months ago too, attacking the industry in a bid to position itself as a cleaner source of energy.

And in a fresh kick in the guts, news broke out from the United States on Friday that Chinese President Xi Jinping was preparing to announce a cap-and-trade scheme to curb emissions as part of a climate deal with the US, ahead of climate talks in Paris in December.

China is Australia’s biggest coal customer and as China and US face off in a climate change battle, the commodity is likely to be a victim.

So imagine the challenge facing the person that has to talk up this industry under siege. That person is Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association.

It might feel like he is trying to sell ice to eskimos, lobbying for an industry so beleaguered. But Sporton, an Australian who took the top job at the World Coal Association three months ago, is ditching soft diplomacy for advocacy.

“You can’t compare it to tobacco,” he told AFR Weekend in Melbourne on Friday.

“Coal has social value, coal is a provider of electricity, and products that make steel and cement. That’s where we have the job to explain that. I don’t think as a global industry we’ve been sufficiently active in making the case for coal.”

The case for coal

The WCA is not the only outfit turning to advocacy. On Friday, it also came out that Royal Dutch Shell and BHP Billiton are heading a carbon caucus to reintroduce fossil fuels to the highest levels of debate over climate change ahead of COP21 in Paris this year.

Sporton is in Australia to talk up coal’s case after touring Asia earlier this month. Clean coal is a major part of the solution to a lower carbon future, he says.

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