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UK Climate Progress is Shadowed by Hypocrisy

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Emily Davies examines how the UK says it's committed to sustainability while allowing the coal industry to progress.

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Photo by Kelly Lacy

The opening of a new mine, which would have produced coking coal in Cumbria, goes against the UK's commitments to reach net-zero by 2050 and phase out coal use. To make these goals realistic, steelworkers would have to stop using coal by 2035.

The new coal mine, however, would throw these promises into doubt, jeopardising the UK government's credibility. These goals surrounding coal reduction are vital, as the shift away from coal towards gas and renewable energy has been the biggest factor in the UK's falling emissions, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Robert Jenrick has called in the plans for the mine, and a public inquiry is underway, but this is a pause, not a definite cancellation. The inquiry brings relief to those who have been busy making their voices heard, desperately trying to convince those in power to prevent the mine from going forward. 

How did the mine get this far?

In October 2020, Cumbria County Council approved the mine, triggering a massive uproar from environmentalists, climate scientists and MPs alike. Following the backlash, Jenrick reversed his earlier decision to avoid getting involved and called in the plans while announcing a public inquiry.

The response by environmentalists was ecstatic. Dianne Moyes, a member of Friends of the Earth Cumbria, described the moment she heard about the development: 

"I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting with Climate Action West Cumbria when my husband came in with the news that Jenrick had called it in and there would be a public inquiry. It was a great feeling, and we enjoyed the moment together."

This news wasn't welcomed by everyone, as the £165m mine would provide 500 jobs to an area with high unemployment levels. West Cumbria Mining had previously told locals that they have the opportunity to generate "many hundreds of skilled and well-paid new jobs." Moyes claimed that locals had expressed concerns about this too: 

"The people who just think any jobs are good are upset that it has been called in. Those who think we would gain more in the long term from green jobs are glad that it is to be looked at again."

Worries around employment are understandable, but a report published by Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) reassures those concerned by demonstrating that Cumbria has more potential for green jobs than those produced with the mine.

The UK's Reputation

Each development in the Cumbria mine situation has been watched closely, not only by local environmentalists but also by the world, as it has turned into a global political row. The new mine opening would show the UK in a hypocritical light for many reasons, the main one being that the UK initiated the "Powering Past Coal" initiative. Moyes and many others are sceptical of government promises surrounding sustainability:

"The government is still supporting oil and gas exploration schemes in the North Sea which completely undermine its credibility. I think the government want to host a big conference for the status of it, but I am not sure how committed they are. I look at all the houses that have been built in the last ten years, very few of which are zero-carbon when they should have been."

So, while the decision to call a public inquiry and halt the mine's development is great news for the planet, it has put the UK's credibility surrounding climate change goals in doubt, both within the UK and abroad. 

The UK isn't the only country promising climate leadership but whose actions contradict the claims. Germany, for example, is a member of the Powering Past Coal Alliance too, yet last year opened a new coal-fired power plant. Likewise, Canada is committed to phasing out coal-powered electricity but is planning for an expanded coal mining production in the West.

Countries can easily pledge to be carbon neutral, and they all want to be the world leader in climate change progress, but actions speak louder than words. Do they hope that no one will notice? The backlash against the Cumbria mine has proven that people are paying attention


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