The UK is ready to get its first new deep coal mine in three many years after the federal government authorised plans for a undertaking 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 yr, for use by the metal business within the UK and past, in keeping with the developer, West Cumbria Mining.
However the undertaking has confronted fierce opposition from scientists and environmental campaigners, who argue the UK needs to be investing in inexperienced metal applied sciences somewhat than supporting a brand new fossil gasoline scheme.
Why has the federal government authorised the mine?
It has been below stress from native Conservative MPs to permit the mine for years, with supporters arguing it should deliver round 500 much-needed jobs to the world. However it shied away from making the choice whereas the UK was main international 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 glad the undertaking 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 yr.
Can the mine actually be net-zero emissions?
West Cumbria Mining has stated “the mine seeks to be web zero in its operations”, which it should obtain by minimising emissions from manufacturing of the coal and by buying carbon offsets. However it has solely accounted for a tiny fraction of your entire emissions that can be generated as soon as the coal is lifted from the bottom, Lord Deben, the chair of the Local weather Change Committee (CCC), informed the BBC. “They don’t rely the burning of the coal,” he stated. “We’ve no approach of guaranteeing that’s web 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 stated it is not going to use coal from the Cumbria undertaking as a result of its sulphur content material can be too excessive, whereas Tata has stated it could use some coal from the mine, however in the end plans to shift to greener manufacturing strategies over the subsequent decade.
The truth is, it’s estimated that solely between 10 and 20 per cent of the coal extracted from Woodhouse Colliery can be used for steelmaking within the UK.
The remainder can be exported – and doubtless to not different nations in Europe, the place steelmakers are going through comparable pressures to chop the carbon footprint of their operations. On the continent, steelmakers are more and more investing in non-fossil methods of constructing metal, similar to by utilizing 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 fabric influence on emissions?
The federal government argues the proposed improvement “may have a broadly impartial impact on the worldwide launch of greenhouse gasoline emissions from coal utilized in metal making”. The truth is, the CCC stated the mine would improve UK carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes a yr, and as soon as the emissions from burning the extracted coal are taken into consideration, the equal to 220 million tonnes of CO2 can 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 world emissions.
However even when the emissions from the mine itself are marginal, many local weather specialists are apprehensive that by approving this, the UK authorities has undermined its worldwide credibility as a local weather chief.
As host of COP26 in Glasgow final yr, the UK referred to as for nations to “consign coal to historical past” and lobbied nations to decide to phase-out plans for the fossil gasoline. Approving a brand new coal mine on dwelling soil can be seen as hypocrisy, say researchers, and should embolden different nations to increase the lifetime of their very own coal industries.
“Growing nations similar to India will view this resolution as extraordinarily hypocritical, and this transfer will do a disservice to the UK’s historical past of pushing out coal from its energy system,” stated Sugandha Srivastav on the College of Oxford in a press release.
Paul Elkins at College Faculty London stated the approval “trashes the UK’s popularity as a worldwide chief on local weather motion and opens it as much as well-justified costs of hypocrisy – telling different nations 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 specialists doubt the mine will ever turn into operational.
There’ll nearly actually be a authorized problem in opposition to this week’s resolution, with NGOs and legislation teams like ClientEarth actively scrutinising the choice for potential grounds for enchantment, New Scientist understands.
A basic election might additionally scupper the mine’s prospects. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are each against its improvement, with Labour’s shadow local weather and web 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 basic election might cease the mine earlier than operations ever get below approach.
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