'Both climate vandalism and economic incompetence': The green economy reacts to Cumbria coal mine approval
Politicians, business leaders, and economists unite in condemnation of the government's decision to approve the first new UK coal mine in 30 years
Late yesterday afternoon, the government finally approved the controversial plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria paving the way for the first new coal mine in the UK in 30 years.
In his decision, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said the project would deliver a net zero emission mine, would have a "neutral" impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, and could prove compatible with the UK's climate goals. Supporters of the mine maintained that with the resulting coking coal destined for use by the steel industry the new mine could provide lower emission fuel than alternative coal from other sources and would help meet demand that is expected to persist through to 2050.
But a broad coalition of politicians, business groups, economists, and campaigners responded angrily to the decision, contesting almost every aspect of the government's analysis and warning that Ministers were approving plans that would drive up emissions and torch the UK's reputation for climate leadership.
BusinessGreen rounds up the reaction to a decision that has infuriated the green economy.
Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, said:
"Phasing out coal use is the clearesr requirement of the global effort towards net zero. We condemn, therefore, the Secretary of State's decision to consent a new deep coal mine in Cumbria, contrary to our previous advice."
Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, said:
Incredible to say it, but we are discussing the consent of a new deep coal mine in the UK, despite all that has been said in recent years about the phase out coal.— Chris Stark (@ChiefExecCCC) December 7, 2022
This is a very bad decision - supporting a technology of the past, with a very poor prospectus for new UK jobs.
Ed Miliband MP, Labour's Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary, said:
"This decision marks the death knell of any claims this government has to climate leadership. It does not offer secure, long-term jobs, it won't benefit British steel producers and ignores the far greater opportunities of the green economy.
"Rishi Sunak is so weak that he's led by a rump in his party that would keep us stuck in the past when Britain could be building the future.
"Instead of taking this backward step, the government should be creating thousands of sustainable jobs in Cumbria in clean steel, hydrogen, wind, nuclear, home insulation, and other zero-carbon technologies. That's what Labour would do, making Britain a clean energy superpower with our Green Prosperity Plan and proposal for GB Energy, a publicly-owned energy company."
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, said:
"When we need a clean, green industrial strategy fit for the future, this government has backed a climate-busting, backward-looking, business-wrecking, stranded asset coal mine. Let's be clear, this mine is a climate crime against humanity - and such a reckless desire to dig up our dirty fossil fuel past will be challenged every step of the way.
"The steel industry neither needs nor wants this coal mine. Not only would it not displace a single tonne of Russian coking coal from UK imports - but British Steel, one of the two major steel companies in the UK, has said it could not use the mine's coal due to its high sulphur content. So this coal is being dug up purely for exports abroad.
"The government talks about 'levelling up' the local area with high-skilled, long-term jobs. Yet this mine will provide a fraction of those that investment in green infrastructure could provide - as many as 9,000 over the next 15 years, compared to the mine's 500. As the steel industry races to adopt green steel and coking coal all but vanishing by 2035, what happens to those 500 jobs then?
"And when this mine could pump out more emissions per year than the cities of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast combined, where does this leave our oft-trumpeted claims of 'climate leadership'? Why should global emitters like China and India listen to us when just last month at COP27 we recommitted to "phase down coal", while we're now phasing it back in again? This decision simply confirms that the UK's climate credibility on the world stage is in tatters."
Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and environment spokesperson, said:
"This decision cancels out all the progress Britain has made on renewable energy. The government's environmental credentials are yet again left in tatters. Rishi Sunak's government is trashing our country's reputation as a world lead in cutting emissions. He does not represent the views of the public who want green, clean projects.
"After being dragged kicking and screaming to permit more on-shore wind they've now lost all their goodwill by allowing this deeply damaging coal mine.
"Liberal Democrats have long called for this project to be cancelled and we hope the government will reverse their decision."
Emma Pinchbeck, CEO at Energy UK, said:
- Jobs in a sunset industry are not sustainable jobs— Emma Pinchbeck (@ELPinchbeck) December 8, 2022
- UK steel will be (rightly) asked to decarbonise whilst we ship coal to their competitors
- "Our coal is cleaner than their coal so it's actually good" ?
- UK climate leadership has focused on global coal phase out
Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group, said:
"The UK government's decision to approve the Cumbrian coal mine to provide coal for steel production is deeply disappointing from an industrial strategy, market signal, environmental and diplomatic perspective. The UK has clearly embarked on a transition towards net zero emissions and heavy industries such as steel and cement are moving away from high carbon fuels. Several steel makers in the UK and globally are now making plans to move away from coal and instead manufacture green steel through cleaner technologies such as electric arc furnaces powered by renewable energy or through hydrogen direct reduction. Those are the technologies and globally relevant supply chains that the UK should seek to gain a competitive advantage in and where new and secure jobs can be created across the country and for the long-term.
"A year ago, the UK government led a concerted campaign to encourage a wide range of businesses and investors to accelerate efforts to reduce their own emissions by encouraging them to sign up to the United Nations' Race to Zero Campaign. Giving the go-ahead to a new open coal mine in the UK a year later sends a very confusing signal to the business and investment community and is not at all consistent with the actions of a government seeking to de-risk and accelerate investment flows towards low carbon technologies to hit net zero.
"This decision makes little sense from an environmental perspective, especially given the likelihood that 85 per cent of the coal will be exported to Europe. Estimates suggest that the new coal mine will increase UK emissions by 0.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than what the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has projected for all open UK coal mines annually out to 2050. The CCC has made it clear that the mine would increase global emissions and make a serious dent in the UK's increasingly tight carbon budgets.
"This decision will unfortunately damage the UK's global reputation in the climate diplomacy space. Opening a new coal mine a year after leading a push to phase out coal at COP26 in Glasgow really undermines the UK's international credibility and the impact of its future diplomatic initiatives."
It's a huge step backwards. Coal is hugely damaging, we have the resources in the UK to accelerate our investment in renewables not go backwards. A sad day for our climate leadership & sends the wrong signal on policy. Business wants more climate leadership not less https://t.co/GNhqZqM8VL— Rain Newton-Smith (@RainNewtonSmith) December 7, 2022
Ron Deelan, ex-CEO of British Steel, said:
"This is a completely unnecessary step for the British steel industry which is not waiting for more coal as there is enough on the free market available. The British steel industry needs green investment in electric arc furnaces and hydrogen, to protect jobs and make the UK competitive"
Rebecca Willis, Professor in energy and climate governance at the University of Lancaster, said:
"There is no business case or scientific justification for this mine, which has only been made possible by a quirk of our planning laws. It will harm the UK's climate credentials and do very little for communities in Cumbria where the focus should be on delivering on long term, secure and green jobs."
Lord Adair Turner, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said:
Both climate vandalism and economic incompetence on a scale difficult to believe Global coking coal demand will plummet from now to 2050 as iron-making moves to new tech Future govt will have to bail out bankrupt asset and deal with unemployed workers stuck in dead end jobs— Adair Turner (@AdairTurnerUK) December 7, 2022
Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said:
"Opening a coal mine in the UK now is a serious mistake. An economic, social, environmental, financial and political mistake. Economically, it is investing in the technologies of the last century, not this century, and that is the wrong path to growth. Socially, it is pursuing jobs in industries that are on the way out, creating future job insecurity.
"There are surely better ways to promote employment and levelling up. Environmentally, it is adding to world supply and thus consumption of coal and releasing greenhouse gases, when there is an urgent need to reduce them. Financially, it is creating a potentially stranded asset. And politically, it is undermining the UK's authority, leadership and seriousness on the most important global issue of our times."
Simon Nicholas, energy finance analyst at IEEFA, said:
"This decision comes as the UK steel sector calls for government support to transition to low-carbon technology in a bid to remain competitive with the European steel industry which has seen an acceleration in its technology transition away from coal in 2022."
Tania Kumar, deputy director of decarbonisation at the CBI, said:
Woke up hoping it was all a bad dream. Exactly 4 weeks ago we were on the global stage at COP27 fighting for 1.5C. UK biz know that climate leadership is investing in the decarbonisation technologies of the future & better yet enabling the world to follow suit. This is not that. https://t.co/Rk6XWJQtOM— Tania Kumar (@t_kumar12) December 8, 2022
Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:
"Michael Gove cannot ignore the mountain of evidence stacked up against this mine. It will have a significant impact on the UK's legally-binding climate targets, while the market for the mine's coal is already starting to evaporate with the steel industry rapidly investing in green production.
"Areas like West Cumbria must be at the heart of a rapid transition to a green economy. This will help power our homes and industry, while creating the new jobs and opportunities locally that are so urgently required."
Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said:
"Only a month ago, Rishi Sunak was claiming he wanted to make the UK a 'clean energy superpower'. Now, he has approved the first new coal mine in over thirty years. The UK government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership. How can we possibly expect other countries to rein in fossil fuel extraction when we're building new coal mines here?
"Worse still, this mine will do absolutely nothing for the UK's energy security since the coal it contains can only be used for steelmaking, not generating power, and more than 80 per cent of it is earmarked for sale in Europe anyway. 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.
"The timing of this announcement isn't exactly subtle. Ministers are only fooling themselves if they think lifting some of the restrictions on onshore wind in England will somehow make up for the go-ahead for this coal mine. Everyone else can see that both moving away from coal and unleashing onshore wind are long overdue moves, and there's just no excuse for more dithering."
Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor and founder and chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG), said:
"Given the nature of the climate emergency that we are all faced with, the decision to go ahead with a new coal mine in Cumbria is an incomprehensible act of self-harm. Worldwide there should be no new venture into coal, oil or gas recovery. This action by a leading developed economy sets exactly the wrong example to the rest of the world. Our only real form of influence on the climate crisis in the world is seriously jettisoned by this action."
Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, said:
Is this the future we fought for under the Glasgow Pact?— Frank Bainimarama (@FijiPM) December 8, 2022
Fossil fuels should be phased OUT - not up. https://t.co/2BkBLxN6sV
Lyndsay Walsh, climate change policy advisor at Oxfam, said:
"Today's decision is a complete betrayal of the government's commitment to limit global warming to 1.5C.
"Increasing production of the dirtiest fossil fuel as the escalating climate emergency pushes millions of people deeper into hunger and poverty cannot be justified.
"The approval of the Whitehaven coal mine crushes the UK's climate credibility only a month after the COP27 Summit where the Prime Minister pledged to make the UK a clean energy superpower and urged world leaders not to backslide on commitments made to reduce emissions. It is clearly a case of 'do as I say, not as I do'."
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, said:
"It's the height of hypocrisy for the UK government to host the COP26 Climate Summit with the main goal of bringing an end to the era of coal and then 12 months later open the first new coal mine in three decades.
"The UK claims to be a climate leader but it is trashing its record and making a mockery of its green credentials with this decision.
"The result of the COP26 summit in Glasgow was already more hype than real progress but the agreement to phase down coal was one of its few positive outcomes. The fact that the UK itself has now undermined this is breathtaking in its stupidity.
"While the UK opens a new coal mine for steel production, the US and the EU are working on a new deal to make green steel. The UK is behind the curve once again. People living on the front line of the climate crisis will be watching this with horror."
* This article was originally published here