After more than three years of debate, Communities Minister Michael Gove approved the first new UK coal mine in 30 years, despite climate concerns voiced by MPs and environmental experts.
1. Back to coal
The new project entails the digging up of coking coal for steel production in the UK, in Cumbria, near Whitehaven, and is not meant to power plants. The fate of the West Cumbria Mining project had been waiting for two years after the local county council initially approved the mine in 2020. The project’s approval was, however, suspended ahead of the COP26, as the government’s climate change adviser said the move would increase carbon emissions. With the project being approved now, the government’s advisory Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) said that 85% of the coal produced by the mine would be exported. Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said the mine was “no solution to the energy crisis” and “does not offer secure, long-term jobs”.
On Thursday, the government decides on the new coalmine in Cumbria. Approving it would be a terrible idea economically, for our energy policy, and for the climate. As many people have pointed out, including senior Tories, the case for it is based on some ludicrous myths. 🧵— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) December 6, 2022
2. Dirty fuel
Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, producing almost twice the emissions of natural gas. Analysis from local campaigners found that the high sulphur content in the Cumbia mine coal would force any UK steelmaker to make major investment in sulphur abatement technology — to prevent acid rain — before they could use it. According to Greenpeace, neither of the major steelmakers in the UK — British Steel at Scunthorpe and Tata at Port Talbot — has committed to purchasing it given these potential quality issues.
But even if Cumbrian coal could be used substantially in UK steelworks (which it likely can’t), any minor savings on transportation of coal, would be dwarfed by the impact of increasing the overall supply of coal in the wider market.Greenpeace
Greenpeace pointed out to the overall climate impact the new UK coal mine will unleash.
3. Damaging UK’s leadership on climate
Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, described the proposal as “absolutely indefensible” and said its approval would damage the UK’s leadership on climate change. Despite the warning, planning authorities reviewed the original decision and sent a report to the secretary of state of communities to make a final judgement. Finally, a letter summarizing the decision said Mr Gove agreed with the planning inspector’s recommendation to approve the mine. “The mine isn’t needed, will add to global climate emissions, and won’t replace Russian coal,” said Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth’s campaigner.
4. UK hypocrisy
Climate environmentalists from around the world accused the UK of hypocrisy as the country, who hosted COP26 in Glasgow, successfully pushed other nations to agree to phase down coal power. The Green Party suggested the decision was “cynically delayed” until after the UK’s COP 26 presidency ended and left the government’s environmental credentials “in tatters”.