The UK is about to get its first new deep coal mine in three many years after the federal government authorised plans for a venture in Cumbria, regardless of widespread opposition on environmental grounds.
The Woodhouse Colliery in Whitehaven will produce about 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal a 12 months, for use by the metal business within the UK and past, in response to the developer, West Cumbria Mining.
However the venture has confronted fierce opposition from scientists and environmental campaigners, who argue the UK needs to be investing in inexperienced metal applied sciences relatively than supporting a brand new fossil gas scheme.
Why has the federal government authorised the mine?
It has been beneath strain from native Conservative MPs to permit the mine for years, with supporters arguing it should deliver round 500 much-needed jobs to the realm. But it surely shied away from making the choice whereas the UK was main world local weather talks, a job that formally ended final month.
After months of delay, Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, lastly granted approval for the mine on 7 December, explaining he was happy the venture would “have an general impartial impact on local weather change”. That’s regardless of evaluation suggesting the scheme would produce an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasoline emissions a 12 months.
Can the mine actually be net-zero emissions?
West Cumbria Mining has mentioned “the mine seeks to be internet zero in its operations”, which it should obtain by minimising emissions from manufacturing of the coal and by buying carbon offsets. But it surely has solely accounted for a tiny fraction of your entire emissions that will likely be generated as soon as the coal is lifted from the bottom, Lord Deben, the chair of the Local weather Change Committee (CCC), instructed the BBC. “They don’t depend the burning of the coal,” he mentioned. “We now have no manner of guaranteeing that’s internet zero.” The CCC is the federal government’s unbiased local weather adviser.
Does the UK want extra coking coal?
The UK produces round 7.4 million tonnes of metal yearly utilizing coking coal, primarily from two firms: British Metal and Tata. British Metal has mentioned it is not going to use coal from the Cumbria venture as a result of its sulphur content material will likely be too excessive, whereas Tata has mentioned it could use some coal from the mine, however in the end plans to shift to greener manufacturing strategies over the subsequent decade.
In actual fact, it’s estimated that solely between 10 and 20 per cent of the coal extracted from Woodhouse Colliery will likely be used for steelmaking within the UK.
The remaining will likely be exported – and doubtless to not different international locations in Europe, the place steelmakers are going through related pressures to chop the carbon footprint of their operations. On the continent, steelmakers are more and more investing in non-fossil methods of creating metal, comparable to through the use of hydrogen or electrical furnaces. In Sweden, for instance, Hybrit is manufacturing metal made utilizing “inexperienced” hydrogen, which is generated utilizing renewable electrical energy.
Will the mine have a cloth affect on emissions?
The federal government argues the proposed growth “could have a broadly impartial impact on the worldwide launch of greenhouse gasoline emissions from coal utilized in metal making”. In actual fact, the CCC mentioned the mine would enhance UK carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes a 12 months, and as soon as the emissions from burning the extracted coal are taken into consideration, the equal to 220 million tonnes of CO2 will likely be emitted over the course of its 25-year life.
It’s true that it is a drop within the ocean in contrast with the metal business’s general emissions, which account for round 8 per cent of worldwide emissions.
However even when the emissions from the mine itself are marginal, many local weather consultants are anxious that by approving this, the UK authorities has undermined its worldwide credibility as a local weather chief.
As host of COP26 in Glasgow final 12 months, the UK referred to as for international locations to “consign coal to historical past” and lobbied nations to decide to phase-out plans for the fossil gas. Approving a brand new coal mine on house soil will likely be seen as hypocrisy, say researchers, and will embolden different nations to increase the lifetime of their very own coal industries.
“Creating international locations comparable to India will view this choice as extraordinarily hypocritical, and this transfer will do a disservice to the UK’s historical past of pushing out coal from its energy system,” mentioned Sugandha Srivastav on the College of Oxford in an announcement.
Paul Elkins at College School London mentioned the approval “trashes the UK’s status as a worldwide chief on local weather motion and opens it as much as well-justified prices of hypocrisy – telling different international locations to ditch coal whereas not doing so itself”.
Can the mine be stopped?
Regardless of profitable planning approval from the federal government, some local weather consultants doubt the mine will ever turn out to be operational.
There’ll virtually actually be a authorized problem towards this week’s choice, with NGOs and legislation teams like ClientEarth actively scrutinising the choice for potential grounds for attraction, New Scientist understands.
A normal election may additionally scupper the mine’s prospects. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are each against its growth, with Labour’s shadow local weather and internet zero secretary Ed Miliband saying the choice reveals the federal government is “giving up on all pretence of local weather management”. A Labour win within the subsequent normal election may cease the mine earlier than operations ever get beneath manner.
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