The UK government has found itself criticized by its own Climate Change Committee [CCC] as they uphold the decision of a local county council to open a new mining project. Located in the county of Cumbria, this deep coal mine is expected to enter full production by 2023 and would be in production up until 2049; a rather small lifespan for a mine. The purpose of the mine is to resource the steel industry; a sector employing 32 000 people in the UK and producing 8 million tonnes annually. The project would have to close if Britain wishes to comply with its net-zero emission target by 2050.
On January the 11th, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons:
“it is a decision on whether it meets the bar to bring in a case and have it heard on a national scale, or whether, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, it is better left to local democratically-elected counciLlors “.Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State
In response, Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, addressed the secretary of state via a letter. Lord Deben highlights that the mine will cause 0.4 million tonnes of CO2 to be emitted per year. Its annual emissions would therefore surpass the annual emissions from all other open mines in the UK.
According to the Sixth Carbon Budget Advice provided by the CCC, metallurgical coal would have no domestic purposes by 2035. The CCC expects that hydrogen direct reduction and electric arc furnace technologies will completely replace coal in the steel industry. Furthermore, the CCC pointed out that this mine does not have any carbon emission capturing technology. The report characterized such technology as rudimentary for any metallurgical coal industries beyond 2035. Additionally, 80% of the coal will be exported and not resource domestic steel industries. Quite a long list of issues for a mine that is only open for 26 years.
Lord Deben points to the damaging political impacts of allowing such a project to occur. As host of the COP26, opening a new coal mine would send a negative message. It prevents the UK from pushing for efficient climate change targets, and the nation is at risk of losing credibility in terms of climate change. The impacts of such a decision could also be damaging domestically as the recent events happening in France have shown. Climate change inaction is less tolerated today than ever before.
A decision not well received by UK environmental politicians and activists
Whilst local conservative politicians have supported the project for providing 500 new jobs for the county, environmentalists have disagreed with the direction taken by the government. Policy Director for Greenpeace, Doug Parr told the Financial Times: “How can the government expect to claim global leadership as it hosts international climate talks later this year after giving this the green light?”.
The Green Party of England and Wales have shown their disapproval on social media as well
Ali Ross, councilor to the Green Party of England and Wales and campaigner, characterized the decision as outrageous, reflecting that this would be the opening of the first coal mine in over 30 years. Furthermore, he challenged the idea of job creation:
“Of course, we are all sympathetic to County Councillors’ desire to create jobs in West Cumbria, but this project never looked likely to deliver the massive opportunities that were promised.”Ali Ross, Green Party of England and Wales politician
Some suspect that the decision was based on political reasons. Opposing politicians believe this is a way to secure conservative votes in an ex-industrial area with declining industries. Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat and Member of Parliament for Cumbria stated: “It’s disappointing yet unsurprising to see Conservatives put winning votes in marginal seats ahead of tackling the urgent and burning need to tackle the climate emergency”.
Cumbrian council put the decision on hold
Following the concerns over climate change, the Cumbrian council has decided to suspend the plans for the mining project. In light of recommendations from the CCC, the county council decided to reassess the decision. This latest development in this story caused mixed reactions as the Green Party welcomed the suspension but remains cautious.
The Cumbria County Council will gather again to review the decision. Considering the previous mixed responses, it will be difficult for the council to appease everyone.