HomeScienceEnvironmentCumbria coalmine plan is ‘backward step’, says government climate expert | Coal

Cumbria coalmine plan is ‘backward step’, says government climate expert | Coal

A mooted new coal mine inside Cumbria would be “a step backwards”, the UK government’s climate champion warned ahead of an impending decision on the future of the controversial plan, expected this week.

Alok Sharma, whose presidency of the Cop26 international climate talks ended last month, took to Twitter Saturday morning to quash plans for the mine, which would produce coking coal for steelmaking.

“Opening a new coal mine will not only be a step backwards for UK climate action, but will also damage the UK’s hard-won international reputation, through our Cop26 presidency, as a leader in the global fight against climate change,” tweeted Sharma.

The strong intervention of the Tory Party’s most respected figure on climate will fuel further turmoil within the government over energy, the cost of living and green policies.

“The new coal mine [is] expected to create 500 jobs, but [the Local Government Association] say [there is] potential for 6,000 green jobs in Cumbria by 2030,” Sharma tweeted. “[The Committee on Climate Change] has noted that the mine would increase CO2 emissions by 0.4 million tons [megatonnes] annual [with] clear implications for our legally binding carbon budgets.”

He noted that the main potential customers for the mine – British steel producers already rejected it. “As a consent decision looms, there are some facts: 85% of the coal produced would be for export, not domestic use – two major UK steelmakers will not necessarily use much of the coal, not in the last place because of its composition and sulfur content.”

Sharma led the UK’s acclaimed presidency of the Cop26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in 2021. He was sacked from cabinet by Rishi Sunak in September and his presidency of the Cop26 talks ended last month at Cop27 in Egyptleaving him as the backbench Tory MP for Reading, but one who wields enormous influence as the party’s leading Green figure.

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To be threat to resign made to the Observer during the Tory leadership contestif the UK’s net zero target was dumped, Sunak and Liz led Truss to ramp up their green rhetoric significantly.

His intervention is likely to mobilize the green Tories who are concerned about the impact of the Cumbrian coal minewhich experts have said will do nothing to ease the UK’s energy crisis and could end up as an expensive white elephant as steelmakers increasingly turn to low-carbon alternatives, including renewables and green furnaces.

But Sunak is also being called upon by his party’s right wing, who want the new mine for what they believe will be new jobs in an area in need of refurbishment.

The decision on the mine has been delayed for more than two years. Ministers first gave the green light to the project in 2020, but the cabinet fell under at the beginning of 2021 fierce fire from leading international climate figuresprior to the British Presidency of the Cop26 UN climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021.

They said it was “contempt” of the government to consider a new coal mine while urging developing countries to stop using coal. Sharma is known to have strongly protested against the mine in the cabinet.

The mine was subsequently subject to a public inquiry. A final decision was expected this summer, but it has not come postponed during the Tory leadership contestand then postponed again while the UK handed over the presidency of climate talks to Egypt at the Cop27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh last month.

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If the mine gets the green light this week, it will be while the UK is still under the green light on the international scene – the UN Cop15 Summit on Biodiversity opens this week in Montreal, Canada. The United Kingdom is one of them leading countries push for a global commitment to preserve 30% of the planet for wildlife and nature by 2030.

Brentford’s Nicholas Stern, the internationally acclaimed economist who has worked on climate, development and public policy, also told the Observer that the mine would be detrimental to the UK and the world in multiple ways.

“Opening a coal mine in the UK is now a serious mistake: economically, socially, environmentally, financially and politically,” he said. “Economically, it is investing in the technologies of the last century, not this one, and that is the wrong path to growth.

“Socially, it seeks jobs in industries that are on the verge of disappearing, creating future job insecurity – there are certainly better ways to promote employment and reach a higher level. From an environmental point of view, it contributes to the world’s supply and thus to the consumption of coal and releases greenhouse gas, when there is an urgent need to reduce it.

“Financially it creates a potential stranded asset. And politically it undermines the UK’s authority, leadership and seriousness on the most important global issue of our time.”

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