Update 9th February 2021: Cumbria County Council will reconsider its planning consent due to new information on the government’s carbon budgets.
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Environmental campaigners and a local MP have criticised the UK government’s decision not to oppose Cumbria County Council’s planning consent for a new coal mine in West Cumbria, which will extract coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for steel production. Of the 2.7m tonnes produced 85% is planned for export. The government’s stance contrasts with its rejection last year of plans for an opencast mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland on the grounds that it would not be “environmentally acceptable”.
Top climate scientist James Hansen wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that the decision to open the Cumbria mine erodes the UK’s credibility and leadership in the COP26 climate negotiations that the UK will host in November in Glasgow. This view is shared by advisors to developing countries on climate issues. Dr. Hansen said that developing countries would see the UK’s actions in opening a new coalmine as an encouragement to continue using coal. “Developed countries have to work with emerging economies to help them – otherwise, they are going to use coal,” he said. Hansen also rejected the government’s claim that coking coal is needed for steel making and other industrial purposes “We have to replace the old ways of doing things – there are alternatives,” he said. South Lakes Action on Climate Change has also highlighted how the opening of the mine is a retrograde step when low-carbon technologies are increasingly being developed and used in the steel industry. Blast furnaces for recycled steel can be electric and the reducing properties of coke in steelmaking can be replaced by hydrogen, help to drive UK investment in greener technologies. The steel industry needs to move in this direction anyway in order to meet the UK’s net zero targets.
The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory advisers on achieving the UK’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050, has also warned ministers on the Cumbrian mine which will produce more greenhouse gases than all open UK coal mines and will commit the UK to emissions from coking coal, for which there may be no domestic use after 2035.
The area is economically depressed with high levels of deprivation, and a history of mining, so the proposed mine has local supporters as well as opponents.
The government has repeatedly said the decision on the mine is a local matter. However, Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, urged Jenrick to take back control of the process, which is within his powers. “The government now has a second chance to do the right thing and call it in,” he said. “The UK cannot claim to be a climate leader while opening a new coalmine, and ministers must realise that by doing so they undermine our credibility both at home and abroad.”
Sign Greenpeace’s petition to stop the Cumbria coal mine and commit to no new coal in UK.