UK coalmine approval shows PM doesn’t care if he is seen as green

By | December 7, 2022

Fiona Harvey writes:

Opening a new coalmine when the world stands on the brink of climate catastrophe is “absolutely indefensible”, in the words of the UK government’s independent climate adviser, the chair of the Climate Change Committee and the former Conservative minister Lord Deben.

The £165m mine in Cumbria will produce coking coal for steelmaking, which the government has said will still be needed, even though steelmakers must move to low-carbon production in the next 13 years. Two of the UK’s existing steel companies have rejected the new coal, which means much of it will be exported to a world already awash with fossil fuels.

Ron Deelen, a former chief executive of British Steel, said: “This is a completely unnecessary step for the British steel industry, which is not waiting for more coal as there is enough on the free market available. The British steel industry needs green investment in electric arc furnaces and hydrogen to protect jobs and make the UK competitive.”

The decision, and the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, have been roundly condemned around the world. At the UN Cop27 climate summit last month, one of the key flashpoints was the charge of hypocrisy levelled by the developing world against rich countries that have preached lower emissions to the poor while pursuing fossil fuels themselves. The rift threatens to reverse the progress made at the UK-hosted Cop26 summit in Glasgow last year, where the UK succeeded in committing all countries to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

“As a historical emitter responsible for the current state of the climate crisis, the UK cannot expand or invest in any new fossil fuel projects,” said Tasneem Essop, the executive director of Climate Action Network International. “No coal, no gas, no oil. They need to start demonstrating their commitment to 1.5C through actions and not just words.”

Pressing ahead with the Cumbrian mine shows that Sunak has little interest in whether his government is seen as green or not. This week, he made a U-turn on onshore wind, with the first moves to partially relax the ban on onshore turbines in England announced just ahead of the coalmine. He may also relent further on solar farms, as the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, hinted on Tuesday they could be built on mid-grade agricultural land pending a review set for the middle of next year. Soon after taking office in October, Sunak also restored the moratorium on fracking.

But these apparently positive moves should be seen as short-term tactical decisions, taken in light of parliamentary manoeuvrings, public pressure and the urgent need to expand the UK’s energy supplies in the wake of the Ukraine war. They do not denote a coherent green vision. [Continue reading…]

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