The UK’s first deep coal mine in decades will be a disaster for Britain's fight against climate change

Donnachadh McCarthy
Countries must take "unprecedented" action to slash carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and limit dangerous global warming, a key report has warned: PA

Just imagine if the government turned off all the electricity to all the homes in the UK. All the lights, all the electric heating, all the TVs, washing machines, fridges – everything. Even if they kept them turned off for 20 years, you still would not have saved all of the 420 million tons of carbon emissions emitted by a new planned coal mine over its lifetime.

The proposed Woodhouse colliery in Whitehaven, Cumbria – the first deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years – was quietly given the go-ahead while attention was diverted by the government’s announcement of a temporary moratorium on fracking. This was a classic Lynton Cosby style tactic of throwing a dead cat on the table to distract us from the truly negative decision they were simultaneously making.

A coalition of Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councillors on the local council gave permission for the project earlier this year, accepting the coal corporation’s assurances that its benefits (500 local jobs) outweighed any “unacceptable environmental impacts”.

West Cumbria Mining even claimed that they would save carbon, as it would reduce transport emissions due to shorter journeys to steel plants. But from the corporations own figures, this would only save a tiny 2% of the mine’s lifetime emissions.

The reality is the mine, which is scheduled to start coal production in about 2022, will have a devastating impact on the environment and makes a mockery of the UK government’s commitment to a zero carbon Britain by 2050.

According to our Paris Climate Change Agreement commitments, we are supposed to be closing all coal mines, not opening gigantic new ones. Britain would be setting a terrible example by opening Woodhouse. It would say to the world that the UK believes the short-term gain of a few hundred jobs is worth destroying the planet’s climate for.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson says they are committed to overruling their councillors and will reverse their decision if elected. Lib Dem MP Tim Farron asked the secretary of state for local government, Robert Jenrick, to call the decision in. But he has refused to do so.

Shockingly, a Labour Party spokesperson refused to comment when asked if they would veto the decision to open the mine if elected. If Labour supports the Tory decision to open this coalmine, it would make all the positive carbon reduction promises in the party’s manifesto meaningless and undermine its support for the Climate Emergency motion in parliament.

I asked the SNP four times for their position but nobody responded.

As the legal agreement between the council and coal corporation has not yet been signed, there is still time to block it. Local campaign group Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole are fundraising to pay for a judicial review of the decision. But they urgently need national environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace, to pile in. This mine proposal is a full-scale national emergency and their campaign needs to be nationalised.

But what could be worse than a massive new coal mine? “A new coal mine just 10 miles from the most dangerous nuclear power plant and storage depot in Europe,” says Marianne Birkby, a spokesperson for the anti-Woodhouse campaign group. That’s right, this enormous new underground and undersea coal mine is spitting distance from the ageing Sellafield nuclear plant.

This opens up the human-induced earthquake issue yet again. Fracking has been shut down temporarily – the government finally admitted that they could not predict if the technique to extract shale gas from deep underground would set off earthquakes. But coal mining can also cause quakes. A study done by Durham University found that 21% of all UK earthquakes since 1970, have been caused largely by coal mining.

Following the Extinction Rebellion protests in April, Parliament passed a motion declaring a climate emergency. Greta Thunberg was feted in Westminster. Politicians told the student climate strikers that they had been heard. It is cynical in the extreme to say you have heard the plea for action and then proceed to grossly exacerbate that threat.

The Woodhouse Colliery disaster must be stopped.

Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental campaigner.

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