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The Observer’s take on the indefensible decision to open a deep coal mine amid a climate crisis | Observer Editorial


The decision to approve a new £165million coal mine in Cumbria reveals an unpleasant truth about the government. It demonstrates, with stark clarity, that No 10 has no credible green agenda and does not understand or care about the climate peril facing our world.

Ministers are clearly only focused on short-term tactical gain – in this case, to give a brief boost to local jobs – at the expense of crafting a strategy to achieve net zero carbon emissions. 2050 and maintain global leadership in the fight to limit the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our climate.

Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, an independent adviser to the government, described the decision to approve the mine – which will be built by West Cumbria Mining – as “absolutely indefensible”. The former Tory minister is absolutely correct in this analysis which, like other pundits, squarely contradicts Leveling Secretary Michael Gove’s arguments for approving the Woodhouse mine near Whitehaven.

The government says the Woodhouse Colliery, the first deep coal mine to be approved for 30 years, will produce coking coal which the UK steel industry desperately needs and is therefore vital to UK industry as a whole. It’s wrong. On the one hand, UK steelmakers will be legally bound – as part of our climate obligations – to switch to low-carbon production within the next 13 years. When this happens, he will no longer be able to use coking coal. Production from the Woodhouse mine therefore has no long-term future in Britain.

In any case, the coal that will be extracted at the mine will have a high sulfur content. Many UK steelmakers have commented that this makes it unacceptable from the start; two companies have already rejected any prospect of ever burning Woodhouse coal. So its short-term use in the UK also appears to be limited, with only one of the current four blast furnaces having to operate on its coal. As a result, industry figures and energy experts predict that around 90% of Woodhouse’s coal will be exported – to a world that already has a fossil fuel glut. Steelmaking in Europe is also changing and will rely on hydrogen, not coal, for the near future – leaving Britain to seek markets for its Cumbrian coal in places with limited environmental constraints. In the process, we will have become a supplier of dirty fuel to the planet.

Endorsing the mine seriously tarnishes the UK’s reputation as a global leader in climate action and exposes us to well-justified accusations of hypocrisy. Telling other countries to ditch coal while creating new mines will seriously damage the chances of UK negotiators influencing the climate summits. India and other developing countries will certainly not be happy to be told to avoid using fossil fuels by a country that is exploiting new sources of the most polluting of all hydrocarbons.

It’s a grim, disturbing and shameful situation that was summed up last week by Professor Paul Ekins, of the Institute for Sustainable Resources at University College London: “Actions speak louder than words, and approval of this coal mine, instead of seeking investments in renewable energy on the same site, confirms that the government’s protests in favor of a green economy are a decoy.

Scientists estimate the mine will release 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. West Cumbria Mining says it will create around 500 jobs. In an overheated world that will become increasingly intolerant of fossil fuels, these jobs will be short-lived.

theguardian Gt

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