Approval of first UK coal mine in decades sparks condemnation from activists, opposition, and government’s official climate advisers

‘The UK government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership.’

COP26

Levelling up minister Michael Gove has given the go ahead for the first new coal mine in the UK in 30 years. The decision comes despite widespread concern about the impact it will have on the environment.

Gove says the coal will be used for the production of steel and not for power generation. Supporters of the project believe it will reduce the need to import coal and create jobs.

The Cumbria colliery project, near Whitehaven, would be the first new coal pit in Britain since 1986. The proposed mine has sparked fierce opposition from locals and environmentalists. Critics say it would undermine climate targets and that demand for coking coal is in decline.

Following warnings by the government’s climate advisor that the site would increase carbon emissions, approval of the mine was suspended in early 2021, ahead of the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

The government’s advisory Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) reminded that 85 percent of coal produced at the mine would be exported.

Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, said the opening of the mine would undermine UK efforts to reach net zero and “diminish” the country’s global influence on carbon.

“It [the decision] runs counter to the UK’s stated aims as COP26 president and sends entirely the wrong signal to other countries about the UK’s climate priorities. The UK’s hard-fought global influence on climate is diminished by today’s decision,” he added.

‘Shameful’

Environmental campaigners have also voiced contempt at the approval. They warn that a new pit will be damaging to the UK’s reputation on the global stage. The countryside charity CPRE labelled Gove’s decision as “shameful.”

Friends of Earth described the announcement as a “misguided and deeply damaging mistake that flies in the face of all the evidence” on climate change. The organisation’s energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said the move was a ‘significant’ setback.

“The mine isn’t needed, will add to global climate emissions, and won’t replace Russian coal.

“The market for this coal is rapidly disappearing as UK and European steelmakers recognise that green steel is the future, and this mine risks becoming an expensive stranded asset,” said Bosworth.

Noting how the government’s decision came just weeks after the prime minister said his aim is to make Britain a “clean energy superpower,” Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said: “The UK government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership.”

A ‘fossil fuel PM’

Ed Miliband, shadow climate change secretary, said Rishi Sunak had been exposed as a “fossil fuel PM in a renewable age,” who has “given up on all pretence of climate leadership.”

Meanwhile, the former chief executive of British Steel Ron Deelan also shared disproval, saying: “This is a completely unnecessary step for the British steel industry, which is not waiting for more coals as there is enough on the free market available.

“The British steel industry needs green investment in electric arc furnaces and hydrogen, to protect jobs and make the UK competitive.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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