ZURICH - Mining giant Glencore pledged Wednesday to limit coal production and instead prioritise investment in other commodities as part of a move toward cleaner energy and transportation.
The decision by the one of the world’s biggest coal producers comes as activist shareholder groups try to pressure companies to cut back on the major producer of carbon dioxide emissions, a key driver of global warming.
“To meet the growing needs of a lower carbon economy, Glencore aims to prioritize its capital investment to grow production of commodities essential to the energy and mobility transition and to limit its coal production capacity broadly to current levels,” a company statement said.
In 2018, coal generated $12.3 billion (€10.9 billion) in sales for the Swiss-based group, a jump of 26 percent as Glencore raised output by seven percent via Australian acquisitions.
Glencore, which also trades commodities, said it was well-positioned to support the transition to a lower-carbon economy with a portfolio that includes copper, cobalt, nickel, vanadium and zinc.
Those metals are used to produce batteries, the cost and performance of which will likely be key in determining whether electric vehicles displace gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles.
The coal announcement came as Glencore announced that 2018 net profits tumbled 41 percent to $3.4 billion (€3 billion).
Glencore said it believes that energy and mobility transformation “is a key part of the global response to the increasing risks posed by climate change.
“We believe it’s in the best interest of the company,” chief executive officer Ivan Glasenberg added during a press conference.
Globally, coal use accounts for 40 percent of carbon emissions and is on the rise after declining slightly from 2014 to 2016.
Glencore said it supported international efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures while also ensuring universal access to affordable energy.
The Church of England and the Climate Action 100+ group of institutional investors welcomed the news, saying it was “a first for the mining industry.”
“Investors will now want to hold the company to its commitments and to ensure that the methodology for determining the company’s alignment with the Paris goals is robust,” they said in a statement.
They were referring to the Paris Agreement on climate change that aims to limit global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
The pledge to limit its coal output came after Glencore recently increased its holdings by buying stakes in a couple of coal mines from Rio Tinto in Australia.
The integration of the Hail Creek and Hunter Valley should take Glencore’s coal production to 145 million tons in 2019 from 129.4 million last year.
Glencore said it would review its membership in trade associations in line with its climate change positions.
In its results statement, Glencore highlighted its preferred measure of operating profit — adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization costs — which gained eight percent to a record $15.8 billion.
The firm’s commodity trading business reported a 17 percent drop in operating earnings to $2.4 billion, however, while mining earnings gained 15 percent to $13.3 billion.
Glencore said it would pay a dividend of 20 cents per share, the same as last year.
In addition to the $2.8 billion it will return to shareholders through the dividend, Glencore also announced a new program to buy back at least $2 billion in shares this year.
Shares in Glencore gained 2.35 percent in afternoon London trading, while the blue-chip FTSE 100 index was 0.6 percent higher overall.