It’s 2022. Why is the government allowing a new coal mine?

The government claims to be a climate leader - but if we’re serious about tackling the climate crisis then one new coal mine is a coal mine too many.



I can’t believe I’m writing this. The government has approved plans for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years.

Over a decade ago I was one of six Greenpeace activists who climbed the smokestack at Kingsnorth power station to protest plans for a new coal plant there.

We knew that the UK shouldn’t be building new coal power stations in an age of climate change. And our action – and the groundbreaking court case that followed – helped to transform the debate.

Since then the UK has moved drastically away from reliance on a dirty source of energy that we just don’t need. We’ve made commitments to massively cut emissions by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050.

So allowing the first deep coal mine in 30 years to go ahead is simply wrong and goes against any efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Do UK steelmakers even want the coal from this mine?

The new mine near Whitehaven, in Cumbria, won’t help us generate more electricity. It will produce coking coal, which is used to make steel. However, it’s not clear that coal from this mine could be used to a significant degree by steelworks in the UK. Analysis from local campaigners found that the high sulphur content in this coal would force any UK steelmaker to make major investment in sulphur abatement technology (to prevent acid rain) before they could use it.

Neither of the major steelmakers in the UK (British Steel at Scunthorpe and Tata at Port Talbot) has committed to purchasing it given these potential quality issues, so aside from being polluting, most of the mined coal would need to go overseas. In fact, the Climate Change Committee says 85% of the coal from this mine is planned for export to Europe. It’s clear that the main purpose of this mine is not supporting the UK steel industry

But even if Cumbrian coal could be used substantially in UK steelworks (which it likely can’t), any minor savings on transportation of coal, would be dwarfed by the impact of increasing the overall supply of coal in the wider market. 

Analysing the impact of the mine, UCL economist Paul Ekins said “I would expect [it] to result in considerable additional global greenhouse gas emissions and make it more difficult for the UK to meet its carbon reduction targets”

Coalier than thou

Rishi Sunak himself claimed that he wanted to make the UK a ‘clean energy superpower’. But going ahead with this coal mine is completely incompatible with these aspirations. There’s a technological revolution building in steel-making, but this approach could make the UK a backwater in the 21st century clean tech race.

As a political hot potato this coal mine has wasted everyone’s time, but worse still, it undermines the plausibility of UK leadership on climate. How can we expect China, India or any African country to avoid exploitation of their fossil fuels when we’re building new coal mines here? This decision sends all the wrong signals on the world stage and builds a story of the UK being a climate hypocrite rather than a climate leader. We think we’re holier than thou, but they think we’re actually coalier than thou.

We have so much to do if we are to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. We shouldn’t still be having to make the case against coal. Let’s tell the government to cancel the new coal mine.

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