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Government U-turn as new coal mine in Cumbria greenlit

coal mine

A new coal mine which will dig up coking coal for steel production in the UK and abroad has been approved by Michael Gove. In what will be the first new coal mine to be built in the UK for 30 years, the mine has been given the go-ahead by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities despite warnings of its likely impact on the climate.

The project had been in limbo for two years after first being approved by the local council in West Cumbria in 2020. Although the government green-lit the project in early 2021, they quickly reversed their decision ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow later that year.

With the full approval now locked in, work will begin on building the site which is expected to mine up to 3.1 million tonnes of coal per year.

The decision

The decision on the new mine was set to be made back in July but it was postponed so further reviews could take place. After receiving a report from planning authorities, Mr Gove was satisfied enough with the findings to give the new coal mine his seal of approval.

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is said to be satisfied that “there is currently a UK and European market for the coal” and believes that the site’s effects on carbon emissions will be “relatively neutral and not significant.”

A spokesperson for Michael Gove’s department, said:

“This coal will be used for the production of steel that would otherwise need to be imported. It will not be used for power generation. The mine seeks to be net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local employment and the wider economy.”

A key reason for the mine being approved also relates to levelling up. The site is expected to create around 500 new jobs for people in West Cumbria with the local council granting permission for coking coal to be mined at the site until 2049.

The backlash

After Rishi Sunak originally declined an intervention to attend COP27 in Egypt last month, many analysts suggested that the new Prime Minister didn’t rank climate work highly on his list of priorities.

The fact his government has now approved a new coal mine only amplifies this theory further, especially when you consider that many critics are saying the demand for coking coal is on the decline.

Just last week, Conservative MP Alok Sharma stated that opening the new mine would be a “backward” step in the fight against climate change.

These thoughts were echoed by the government’s advisory Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) when the idea of this new mine was first put on the table. They stated that 85% of the coal produced by the mine would be exported and it would needlessly increase carbon emissions in the UK.

Upon receiving confirmation that the mine is to be built, the Chairman of the UKCCC, Lord Deben, slammed the proposals. He has stated that the decision to approve the site will damage the UK’s leadership on climate change, saying that it is “indefensible”.

Former Labour leader and the current shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, tweeted to say:

“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. Waving this mine through further cements Rishi Sunak as an out of date fossil fuel PM in a renewable age.”

The backlash to this new site is expected to also be an in-house issue for the Conservative party as well, with many MPs passionate about climate change.

Final thought

With a new coal mine on the way, it’s worth looking back at what was said during COP26 when the international climate change summit was held in Glasgow. Conservative MP, Alok Sharma, was the president for COP26 and in a speech during the summit, he said:

“From the start of the UK’s Presidency, we have been clear that COP26 must be the COP that consigns coal to history. With these ambitious commitments we are seeing today, the end of coal power is now within sight”.

It raises the question as to how the UK government can go from wanting the world to consign coal to history a year ago to now approving a new coal mine that is going to emit 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

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