What’s the headline?
At the start of the new year, news broke across the globe that the UK Government would ‘not block’ the opening of a brand new coal mine in Cumbria, the Woodhouse Colliery, stating that it was a ‘local issue’ to be decided by the Cumbrian county councillors. Robert Jenrick (Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) said he is “content that it should be determined by the local planning authority”. The local Cumbrian council gave the £165 million project the green light back in October 2020 and laid out controversial plans for opening the first new UK mine in 30 years.
What are the arguments for the mine?
One of the top arguments put forward in support of opening the mine is that West Cumbria Mining will provide hundreds of new well-paid jobs. According to the BBC, unemployment in the area is less than the national average, and so an estimated 500 new roles becoming available would help to support numerous individuals and their families. This could be especially welcomed by constituents following a tough financial period during the global pandemic.
The mine will produce ‘coking coal’, predominantly for use in steel production, which West Cumbria Mining says is “very different to thermal coal…used to create steam to power turbines for creating electricity.” It is further argued that using British coal would save carbon emitted by shipping it long distances to our steelworks, from Australia or North America for example, and therefore overall emissions could more effectively be reduced or even neutralised.
What are the issues?
The news that the UK Government had decided to remove themselves from the decision making process sparked intense outrage from numerous high profile climate campaigners, including top climate scientist, James Hansen, who issued a warning to the Prime Minister over the plans, and teen activist Greta Thunberg who tweeted that the decision “really shows the true meaning of a so called ‘net zero 2050’. These vague, insufficient targets long into the future basically mean nothing today.”
Friends of the Earth coal campaigner Tony Bosworth stated the decision shows “jaw-dropping inconsistency” in the government’s approach, with numerous other environmentalists claiming the plans completely undermine their credibility on the climate crisis. There is a particular focus on this argument with the UK due to host the COP26 summit later in 2021, and Boris Johnson only recently announcing an end to UK investment in oil and gas projects over similar concerns for global warming. Even the government’s own climate advisory Climate Change Committee says that to meet its carbon-cutting timetable, steel firms must stop burning coal by 2035. The only way this process could safely continue is to develop technology to capture the emissions. The European steel industry, Eurofer, told Roger Harribin from the BBC that such technologies might be available by 2035 in the ‘race to zero’, but governments must support research and development by blocking unfair competition from ‘dirty’ importation.
It has also been announced that 85% of the coal mined in Cumbria will be exported. However it is probable that any extra coal sent into the world market will drive down the cost and therefore increase demand for this form of energy resource, in turn driving up emissions – the exact opposite to what members of the Paris Agreement agree should be achieved.
What’s happening next?
As of the 11th March, the project appears to have been put on hold following an order by Robert Jenrick to remove responsibility from the local authority. After previously refusing to intervene, the plans will now undergo a public inquiry where investigations will no doubt be conducted to deatermine how the coalmine could possibly be consistent in meeting Government climate change targets.
Councillors were already reconsidering the plans following intense pressure from climate activists and the availability of new climate change evidence, including a new report from the independent Committee on Climate Change.
According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service and NASA data, 2020 was recorded as one of the warmest years ever going back 140 years, with last month measured as the 6th warmest January ever recorded, tied with January 2018.
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