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UK's First New Deep Coal Mine in Three Decades Approved



October 5, 2020 - The UK's first new deep coal mine in three decades was approved on Friday, despite a government law to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-century.

A meeting of Cumbria County Council in the northwest of England voted by 12 votes to three in favor of the Woodhouse Colliery, which will extract as much as 3.1-million tons of metallurgical coal each year to use in steelmaking.

West Cumbria Mining Ltd., the company behind the project, is due to start production in the second half of 2021 and says it will create 500 jobs. The mine was approved on the condition that it will close in 2049, one year before the country must have net zero emissions. Two officials abstained in the vote and one was unable to vote because his internet connection cut out of the virtual meeting.

While the project is small for the coal mining industry, its construction would have significance for the UK, which closed down most of its coal mines in the 1980s. The last deep Cumbrian coal mine, the Haig Colliery, closed in 1986.


Coal's Decline

Coal’s use to generate electricity has declined precipitously in the developed world and this year the UK’s power supply was coal free for two months straight.

Green campaigners also say the project flies in the face of the government’s pledge to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and undermines the UK’s aspiration to be a global leader on climate change.

A report earlier this year by Green Alliance found that annual emissions from use of the coal extracted would reach at leas 8.4-million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is more than the annual emissions of Cameroon.

It’s also argued that coal powered steel making will become increasingly redundant over the coming decades as factories move towards cleaner fuels, like hydrogen.

“Some corporations, and some politicians, seem to have interpreted the 2050 net zero target as a license to pollute without restraint until 2049,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK.

As host of the next round of United Nations backed climate talks, known as COP26, the UK is trying to galvanize other countries to pledge their own net zero goals. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host a virtual summit on December 12 to encourage world leaders to set ambitious targets ahead of the event in November 2021.

Robert Jenrick, the UK’s Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is now expected to come under pressure to call in the application for review.

“This project will not help us fight the climate emergency, nor will it provide the long-term job security that Cumbrians deserve as the UK rightly moves toward a green economy,” said Matthew Pennycook, the opposition Labour Party’s climate change spokesman.

The majority of the UK public are skeptical about achieving the net zero target, according to a survey by the center-right think tank Bright Blue published Friday. It found that 58% of the public believe that it is unlikely that the target will be achieved even by 2050.