UK Approves First New Coal Mine in 30 Years
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Michael Gove gave his approval on Wednesday for a coal mine in Whitehaven in Cumbria that would cos t£165 million, generate around 500 new jobs in the region, produce 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal a year for steel production and send 40,000 tonnes of climate-heating emissions into the atmosphere each year, The Guardian reported.
“Given the nature of the climate emergency that we are all faced with, the decision to go ahead with a new coal mine in Cumbria is an incomprehensible act of self-harm,” Sir David King, Founder and Chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG) –an international body of climate experts–said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “Worldwide there should be no new venture into coal, oil or gas recovery. This action by a leading developed economy sets exactly the wrong example to the rest of the world. Our only real form of influence on the climate crisis in the world is seriously jettisoned by this action.”
The UK had tried to position itself as a global climate leader after it hosted the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow in 2021. The Woodhouse Colliery, which will be run by West Cumbria Mining, was first proposed in 2014, according to The Guardian. It was approved by local authorities in 2020 and the national government in 2021. However, the government actually went back on its approval as the country prepared to host COP26. In its duties as host, the UK also commissioned a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that found that no new fossil fuel deposits could be extracted if world leaders wanted to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
Now, the UK’s COP President Alok Sharma opposes the decision to greenlight the mine after all.
“Over the past three years the UK has sought to persuade other nations to consign coal to history, because we are fighting to limit global warming to 1.5C and coal is the most polluting energy source,” Sharma told The Observer over the weekend. “A decision to open a new coalmine would send completely the wrong message and be an own goal. This proposed new mine will have no impact on reducing energy bills or ensuring our energy security.”
Proponents of the mine argue that it would boost the local economy of Cumbria.
“I’ve been inundated with messages from across my community tonight, and we’ve got a community in celebration about one of the biggest positive economic impacts on our area in a generation,” Copeland Borough Council elected mayor Mike Starkie told BBC Radio 4. “This is fantastic news for West Cumbria and for our community.”
However, Sharma tweeted that green industries could provide 600 jobs in Cumbria by 2030. And not all locals are pleased with the decision. The Cumbria-based South Lakes Action on Climate Change told BBC News that the mine exemplified “lack of meaningful action on the climate and ecological emergency.”
The coal will not be mined for fuel. Instead, it will be used to make steel. In his approval letter, Gove agreed that both the mining of the coal itself and its use in steel making would have an overall or broadly “neutral effect” on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The government further argued that the mine did not violate its commitment to be net zero by 2050 because it would shutter by 2049, The Guardian reported.
However, the UK’s advisory Climate Change Committee said the mine would increase the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes a year, which is more than its current coal mining emissions through 2050. It’s also the equivalent of adding 200,000 new cars to UK traffic, The Guardian reported. Further, the committee argued that 85 percent of the coal would need to be exported. Of the two main British steel companies, British Steel has said the Cumbria mine’s coal will have too much sulfur for it to use while Tata said it might use some of the coal before switching to more climate friendly steel making methods over the next ten years, New Scientist reported.
“Phasing out coal use is the clearest requirement of the global effort towards Net Zero,” Climate Change Committee chair Lord Deben said, as CNBC reported. “We condemn, therefore, the Secretary of State’s decision to consent a new deep coal mine in Cumbria, contrary to our previous advice.”
There is still a chance the mine could be blocked. Nonprofit ClientEarth is investigating a legal challenge, according to New Scientist. Further, both the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are against the mine, which means they could rescind approval if a general election is called in the UK and the ruling Conservatives lose.