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  • Ben Morley

The new Cumbria Coal mine is a major threat to climate action


Kellingley Colliery was the last deep coal mine in the UK to operate, closing in 2015.

The planned build of the first new coal mine in Britain in over 30 years has rocked the UK Government’s climate credentials. Initially approved last year by the local council in Whitehaven, Cumbria and then given the green light by the Government, the plan has come under fire by campaigners and opposition politicians and is now under review. Worryingly, this project ultimately could have a massive effect on determining the success of the upcoming, vital UN climate summit in Glasgow. The government must look beyond short-term economic gain and do the right thing, the action that could actually secure climate action nationally and internationally and secure their place in history.

Due to poor unemployment in the region, and a need to boost Cumbria’s economy, the region’s council voted unanimously to approve a coking coal plant under the Irish sea. After the last functioning coal plant closed over five years ago, it would mean a resumption to UK coal production. Northern Tory MPs, who toppled the Labour red wall in the 2019 General election, have written a public letter supporting the arrangement, pushing for its implementation. Labour have rightly called it out, with Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband suggesting the plans should be scrapped. The Tory MPs clearly think there are some political points to be scored, but they are fundamentally missing the impact this could have on the government’s own long-term goals and reputation.

This Government has repeatedly claimed to be world-leaders in the fight against climate change. Regularly, the Prime Minister has touted policies like getting to carbon net-zero by 2050, or banning the sale of petrol or diesel cars by 2030. These aims are important and needed, if even a bit too small in scale. But this Government should be judged if we are actually on course for them, not for it’s the levels of its rhetoric. Part of the plan involves coal burning for steel to stop by 2035. This plant would remain open until 2049- one year before net zero. Additionally, the Government also set up an international alliance called ‘Powering Past Coal.’ Clearly, if this project does come to fruition that slogan will now include an asterisk- *except for us. If they truly want to be a green government, they cannot have a halfway house approach – it must be all in.

Arguably the biggest reason why this policy is so problematic, and extremely counter-productive, is that the UK is hosting COP 26, or the 26th global UN-led climate summit. These conferences are truly make or break. Domestic climate policy can only go so far. Only a global, coordinated response will match the intensity and the grand scale of the problem of climate change. These summits are desperately needed to find consensus, agreement and an international plan to fight this crisis. Really, they are the whole ball game. The host needs to make the summit run like clockwork, negotiate early on with all the key governments to have a starting framework ahead of the conference. They need to send clear messages with their own domestic policy and agendas. What needs to be avoided is host countries slipping up (say by announcing a coal plant in the same year they are due to host), suggesting their non-commitment to the cause. This gives truly climate-sceptic governments reason to not negotiate and undermines the whole process.

Two of the more recent COP summits reveal how crucial it is for the host countries to be ready and fully on board with action. The Paris summit of 2015 stands as one of the finest hours of the UN and probably the peak so far of the fight against climate change. All UN members agreed to keep global temperatures ‘well below’ 2 degrees and on an action plan to get there. In large part, the agreement was possible because of French planning well in advance as host and being able to put on a very smooth and ordered event. The 2018 Climate Summit in Katowice, Poland, designed to build on Paris and work on concrete actions to get to under 2 degrees warming, was less successful. The Polish Government, in scenes extremely concerning for Glasgow later this year, was still producing coal and backing it. That dominated the coverage of the event, not the solutions to impasses and what could be done to bring about success. The lessons here are clear. If the Government wants Glasgow to be a true triumph of diplomacy, then they need to denounce coal, keep it in the ground, and charge full speed ahead with preparations.

This government must grab this summit opportunity with both hands. They cannot cower behind this ridiculous idea of a coal plant. They need to publicly denounce it, to make sure the council blocks it. The Prime Minister must fight this issue with all he can. He must make it his top priority after the Coronavirus pandemic. He has an opportunity here to write his name and his Government's name into history for answering the call of younger and future generations. There is no debate about this. Glasgow 2021 must be an unmitigated success. US Climate Tsar John Kerry recently described it as humanity’s ‘last, best chance.’ If a single, coal mine prevents such a necessary outcome then this Government should be vilified.

Image: Flickr (Chris Sampson)



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