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NEW COAL MINE PLACES PRESSURE ON UK CLIMATE TARGETS

Image Credit – Dominik Vanyi

The UK government has given the go-ahead for the first new deep coal mine in decades

Approval for the development of the mine in Copeland, Cumbria, UK has been a lengthy process, taking eight years of negotiations and having been pushed back three times.1 However, an enquiry nearing 400 pages in length was released in December 2022, granting planning permission and construction for the mine.2

Communities Secretary Michael Gove gave the green light for the mine, stating its development will allow for the localisation of coal production. Coking coal will be extracted from the mine and used as an essential fuel for steel production, helping to fill the gap in the market left by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the UK previously imported nearly half of its coking coal from Russia.3

Whether the coal will be extracted for domestic use has been subject to debate. Industry experts have warned that the quality of coal produced from the Cumbria mine will not be suitable for UK or European steelmakers due to its high sulphur levels.4 Therefore, this coal will not replace imports, rather, it will rely upon global export markets. In a letter of concern to the government, the UK Climate Change Committee stated that it is likely that 85% of coal will be exported to Europe.5 Chris McDonald, chief executive of Materials Processing Institute has stated that more than 90% of production will be exported.6 

There are now numerous calls by environmentalists and MPs to reverse the decision. The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have been firmly against plans for the mine. MP Ed Miliband tweeted on the day of the mine’s approval,

‘This decision is no solution to the energy crisis, it does not offer secure, long-term jobs, and it marks this government giving up on all pretence of climate leadership.’7

An open letter addressed to PM Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove has been signed by over 450 Church leaders and environmental campaigners, calling the mine’s approval a ‘great injustice,’ and stressing that supporting the dying coal industry rather than renewable energy is a major backwards step.8 Indeed, the Cumbria mine could damage the UK’s reputation as a green leader, as it is expected to release 400,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year.9

West Cumbria Mining, the developer behind the project (at the time of going to press) has yet to comment after planning permission was granted. However, the firm has previously stated it is attempting to deliver the world’s first ‘net zero mine’ and plans to offset emissions generated from construction and operation of the mine by using carbon credits from the Gold Standard Foundation.10 Critics have argued carbon offsetting is being used as justification for the continuation of fossil fuels production, as it is debated whether offsetting is a valid form of greenhouse gas mitigation.11 

West Cumbria Mining has promised that the opening of the new mine will create 500 local jobs in Copeland, and a further 1500 in supply and demand in the surrounding region of Whitehaven, an area that has high levels of unemployment.12

Howver, as legislation against climate change tighens, the permanence and stability of these jobs is up for debate. In contrast, research by the Local Government Association finds that Cumbria has the potential for providing 6000 green jobs by 2030, and nearly 600 of these would be available in Copeland.13

While it is not yet clear when construction for the mine will start, an open letter with enough signatories could delay this. 

References

1.  Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, 7 December 2022. Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – Section 77, Application made by West Cumbria Mining Ltd. Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1122625/22-12-07_Whitehaven_-_Decision_Letter_and_IR.pdf [accessed 15/12/22]

2.  Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, 7 December 2022. Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

3.  Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), 29 September 2022. Coal Imports. Available at ET_2.4_SEP_22.xlsx [accessed 15/12/22]

4.  The Guardian, 11 December 2022. New Cumbria coal mine: backlash grows as steel industry plays down demand. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/11/new-cumbria-coalmine-backlash-grows-as-steel-industry-plays-down-demand [accessed 15/12/22]

5.  Climate Change Committee, 29 January 2021. Letter: Deep Coal Mining in the UK. Available at https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/letter-deep-coal-mining-in-the-uk/ [accessed 15/12/22]

6.  The Guardian, 11 December 2022. New Cumbria coal mine: backlash grows as steel industry plays down demand.

7.  Twitter, 7 December 2022. Available at https://twitter.com/Ed_Miliband/status/1600556229021024291 [accessed 15/12/22]

8.  Dr Chris Manktelow, Young Christian Climate Network, 14 December 2022. Open Letter to Secretary of State and PM – New Coal Mine. Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/10X4svQkjEJih6OqR1ZXKJIltF480Nxry99HQRu4Gvnk/edit [accessed 15/12/22]

9.  Climate Change Committee, 29 January 2021. Letter: Deep Coal Mining in the UK.

10.  Cumbria County Council, 7 September 2021. Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended). Available at https://cumbria.gov.uk/elibrary/Content/Internet/538/28159/44448104025.pdf [accessed 15/12/22]

11.  The Carbon Offset Research and Education program, 2022. Concerns about Carbon Offset Quality. Available at https://www.offsetguide.org/concerns-about-carbon-offset-quality/ [accessed 15/12/22]

12.   Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, 7 December 2022. Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – Section 77, Application made by West Cumbria Mining Ltd. pp. 69.

13.  The Countryside Charity, 4 November 2022. Our letter to the Secretary of State: refuse the Cumbria coal mine. Available at https://www.cpre.org.uk/news/our-letter-to-the-secretary-of-state-refuse-the-cumbria-coal-mine/ [accessed 15/12/22]

Olivia Trimborn – Author

18/12/2022

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