China's decision to stop funding overseas coal projects represented a potential threat to the Hunter's multi-billion dollar coal export industry, NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday has fuelled further uncertainty about the role of coal in the Hunter's economic future.
While the announcement is unlikely to kill-off the region's coal industry in the short term, it is expected to reduce the global demand for thermal coal.
NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said the Chinese announcement should be seen as a warning signal for the industry, which injected $6.2 billion into the Hunter economy last financial year.
"We need to face the reality that the future of the coal industry in the Hunter is not going to be determined by domestic policy makers. It is going to be determined by the decisions of foreign governments and mining companies," he said.
"What we saw yesterday was a huge market for our coal potentially come under threat.
"My view is that we should continue to export as much coal as we can while the markets are demanding that product but we also need to prepare for a future where those international markets will be demanding cleaner ways to power their economies with materials built with cleaner inputs to build their economics."
The Newcastle Herald reported last year that the Hunter's coal sales to China were worth between $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year. However, this only represented about 15 per cent of the region's coal exports.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said the Chinese announcement had failed to take into account the "significant investments made in recent years in fossil fuel power generation in the region".
She said the plants had long lives and it was imperative that governments and industry supported efforts to deploy abatement technologies like carbon capture and storage to mitigate their emissions.
"These technologies are developing rapidly and will be critical for global decarbonsation," she said.
Ms Constable said there were 65 commercial carbon capture use and storage facilities in various stages of development globally.
"More of this is what's needed to both reduce emissions and continue to allow countries a full suite of energy options for their development," she said.
Federal Resources Minister Keith said the outlook for Australian coal remained positive.
He said he expected global demand for coal to "continue to rise". A major driver was the fact that there were 100 gigawatts of coal-fired generators under construction in China.
A spokesman for Chinese-owned Yancoal, which operates Ashton South East open-cut coalmine near Camberwell, said the president's announcement would not affect its operations.
"As an Australian-listed coal mining company that is not involved in building power generation projects, Yancoal does not consider that these comments have any implications for our Australian mining operations," he said.
China's announcement follows similar moves by South Korea and Japan, the only other nations that offered significant funds for coal projects.
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