Stuart Spray reports on a move that threatens to betray the UK’s carbon commitments

Under cover of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and on the same day as a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, the UK Government quietly confirmed that it would not be standing in the way of Cumbria County Council’s decision to approve a planning application to open the UK’s largest underground coal mine for 30 years.

The ruling not only throws doubt on the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, but it also questions whether the planning system is fit for purpose in the face of the looming climate emergency.

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, told Byline Times:

“This decision is a complete disaster for our children’s future – an almighty backwards step in the fight against climate change. It’s utter and rank hypocrisy for this Conservative Government to claim one minute that they care about protecting our environment, and in the next give the green light to a deep coal mine.”

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg joined the condemnation, tweeting: “This really shows the true meaning of so called net zero 2050. These vague, insufficient targets on into the future basically mean nothing today.”

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick cited the Government’s desire to grant more power to councils and committees in relation to planning issues.

Last October, Cumbria County Council’s development control and regulation committee took just two hours and 20 minutes to discuss and approve the project by a majority vote. The 18 councillors were predominantly retired senior citizens. While several of them made it known that they have family ties with the mining industry, it does not seem that any of the committee members have experience or knowledge of climate change science in particular.

Representations from locals and experts concerned about climate change at the online meeting were met with silence, whilst contributions from councillors who would later vote in favour of the development featured a disappointing liturgy of climate change denial and misinformation – combined with nostalgia for a time when Cumbrian coal pits were the envy of the world.

“Can we really have any faith in scientific theories?” said Councillor Grey on the validity of the climate emergency.

Another councillor reflected warmly on the coal mining history of the area – a sentiment supported by several of the committee members.

“Reopening the mine would provide a generational opportunity to reintroduce mining into west Cumbria,” Councillor Williamson said. “A chance for our young people to be aspirational in their career options.”

More than 500 people will be directly employed at the mine, including up to 50 apprentices, and West Cumbria Mining has committed to recruiting at least 80% of its workforce locally.

What Councillor Williamson neglected to mention was the considerable health risks associated with mining and the hundreds of thousands of young people around the world whose lives will be threatened by rising sea levels and erratic weather conditions brought about by changing climate – caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Councillor Markley appeared confident that climate change would be overcome as “we have evolved since the Ice Age and will continue to evolve [and in] doing so facing all the challenges put before us”.

The councillor also played down any environmental concerns: “In many opinions, the economic benefits outweigh any of the environmental issues which have been stated, debated and well explained.” 

Appearing on RT UK later that day, Councillor Markley denied that the mine was a step back in the fight to reduce carbon emissions.

Other councillors claimed that the mine would be net carbon neutral, despite the fact that – every year for the next 30 years – it will produce 2.78 million tonnes of coking coal for the UK and European steel industries.


Captured by Carbon

How can a coal mine be net carbon neutral? West Cumbria Mining contends that it has no legal obligation to assess CO2 emissions from burning the coal produced at its new mine or from transporting the coal to the European and British steelworks. That, it says, is the responsibility of the steelworks.

Indeed, West Cumbria Mining did compare the climate effects of granting planning consent to the effects of not, and concluded that there would be “no material or significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of granting consent” because the Cumbrian coal “would substitute for coal imported from USA”.

According to the environment statement submitted with the planning application, the mine could even contribute to a reduction in CO2 emissions due to reduced transport mileage.

Cumbria County Council recommended that planning permission should be granted, not only on the grounds that it would boost the local economy, but also because of the “benefit to climate change”.

In fact, the opposite is true. It is clear that the Cumbrian mine will not be net carbon zero. Instead, according to figures in a report published in January 2020 by independent think tank Green Alliance, it will produce eight million tonnes of additional carbon emissions per year and threaten the UK’s ability to meet its legal commitments, under the 2008 Climate Change Act and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Given the urgent need to address an imminent threat to the future of humanity, this is an error of generational proportions.

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include: empire & the culture warBrexit, crony contractsRussian interferencethe Coronavirus pandemicdemocracy in danger, and the crisis in British journalism. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under Reportage

Liz Truss’ False Energy Bill Cap Claim has Misled Public, Poll Finds

, 30 September 2022
Six in 10 voters believe the Prime Minister's false claim that the Government is capping total household energy bills at £2,500 a year, reports Adam Bienkov

‘Lies and Deceit’: Top Russian Oligarch Indicted for US Criminal Sanctions Violations had Role in Russia Interference Report

, 30 September 2022
The indictment of Oleg Deripaska is the latest in a string of judicial decisions which lead back to Putin's interference in US elections, reports Heidi Siegmund-Cuda

EXCLUSIVE Tax Cuts For The Rich, Benefit Cuts For The Poor?

, 30 September 2022
Following news that benefits may rise with earnings, not inflation, Sian Norris and the Byline Intelligence Team asks: who will be hardest hit? And is this an inequality economy?

More from the Byline Family