What’s Going On Here?

After pledging to phase out coal, the UK government allowed planning of the first new deep coal mine in 30 years. After pressure from environmental groups, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and head climate figures, the county council may now be reconsidering the application

What Does This Mean?

Last October Cumbria County Council permitted planning permission for West Cumbria Mining to open the controversial deep coal mine at Woodhouse Colliery, near Whitehaven. This was made possible by local government secretary Robert Jenrick opting not to call in the plans for a central government decision.

The mine is predicted to increase UK emissions by 0.4Mt (megatonnes) of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year, greater than the levels predicted from all open coal mines in the UK to 2050. This would put the net zero targets in jeopardy (which many scientists consider too late anyway), and hugely undermine the UK’s credibility in advance of COP26 later this year. 

Arguments for the mine include that it would be producing coking coal, which is used for steel rather than coal power stations (which the UK government have committed to phasing out by 2025), alongside the job creation from the new mine. However, the CCC have advised that domestic coking coal must be phased out by 2035 and the steel industry needs to look to cleaner production methods instead.. Although the coal mine will create desperately needed jobs in the area, these could be replaced instead by green jobs fit for the future.

Why Should We Care?

On Tuesday 9th February there was an abrupt U-turn by the county council, who are now reconsidering planning permission in light of the CCC’s recommendation for the Sixth Carbon Budget. This is GREAT news and there are many lessons to be taken from the story so far, with a huge one being that activism and opposition against climate destroying ventures works! 

The mine has gained fierce criticism from environmental groups and figures. Opposing groups include Friends of the Earth, WWF, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and local residents’ organisation Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole – with two young climate activists undertaking a hunger strike against the mine. Others who have spoken up include the “godfather of climate change” James Hansen who wrote directly to Boris Johnson, local Cumbrian Lib Dem MP Tim Farron, Greta Thunberg and importantly the CCC themselves who urged Robert Jenrick to reconsider. 

It is clear that members of government don’t take the issue seriously enough to question or intervene when such projects are suggested, and clearly the importance of local councillor’s requirements to consider climate targets needs addressing. We must keep holding the government accountable.

And finally, this story highlights the false dichotomy of climate action versus jobs – the two are not mutually exclusive! Instead, we must ensure a just transition away from fossil fuels. As Tim Crosland, director of the group Plan B who take legal action against climate change recently stated: “Nowhere is the false dichotomy of “prosperity versus the environment” more evident than in Cumbria, where so many families are the victims of devastating flooding, attributable to the fossil fuel induced climate crisis. Precarious jobs in industries which increase the vulnerability of people in the region have nothing to do with levelling up.” 

It’s not over yet and there’s still every possibility the mine could go ahead, see below for how you can help!

Be Curious 

  • Donate to the South Lakes Action on Climate Change’s crowdfunding page to help pursue a judicial review of the decision, should it still go ahead. 
  • Support the grassroots group Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole for regular updates on the situation. 
  • Sign the UK parliament petition against the coal mine, and this 38 degrees one. This petition is specifically to stop fossil fuel extraction near nuclear installations due to the risks of seismic dangers from the Whitehaven coal mine being in such close proximity to the Sellafield nuclear waste complex.
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