Total has also decided to divest from its coal marketing operations and says it will no longer be involved in the coal business by the end of 2015.

Chief executive Patrick Pouyanné said on Monday: “It was a matter of both consistent strategy and our credibility.

“Faced with the issue of climate change, Total is committed to promoting the use of natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, especially compared to coal, which emits twice as much greenhouse gas when used to generate power.

“We cannot claim to be providing solutions to climate change while continuing to produce or market coal, the fossil fuel that emits more greenhouse gas than any other.”

Bear market

The announcement was another hit to the coal industry, in a week that has started disastrously for many fossil-fuel majors.

News of a manufacturing slowdown in emerging economies – China in particular – saw global stock markets plunge on Monday.

The world’s largest coal company Glencore was down 8.5% with fellow coal giants, Anglo American and BHP Billiton both down more than 7%. The latter two firms regained about half their losses in early trading on Tuesday.

Oil majors Shell and BP also took a big hit Monday, as did UK gas companies BG Group and Centrica. Spanish renewable-energy Abengoa SA was among the few winners in the market, climbing 3.6%.

The fossil fuel industry took a further hit, as news emerged from Germany that the country’s renewable energy transition (energieweende) was causing the closure of 57 traditional gas and coal power plants – nine more than expected at the start of the year.

The German government has a target to source 50% of electricity from renewables within the next 15 years, ahead of a long-term transition to a 100% renewable grid.

Brad Allen

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie