‘Dig coal to save the climate’: the folly of Cumbria’s plans for a new coalmine

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Supporters of a new coalmine have argued that it will reduce global warming and create green jobs. How could such absurd claims have gained any credibility?

It was in early 2019 that I first heard about the proposals for a new coalmine in Cumbria. It happened almost by chance. I was speaking with a local government officer who was developing the county’s economic strategy. As someone who has worked with governments on climate issues for many years, I had been asked to offer advice on how to make Cumbria a climate leader. We talked through the opportunities – investing in renewables, helping businesses reduce waste, developing Cumbria’s tourist industry.

And then the government officer mentioned, almost in passing, that they had been helping a company with plans for a new coalmine, to produce coking coal for steel production. I didn’t know what to say. This would be the first new deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years, and the only active one: the last of the old ones closed in 2015. After a long silence I pointed out that digging up coal – the most polluting of all fossil fuels – is no definition of climate leadership. Yet just a couple of weeks later, Cumbria county council’s planning committee voted unanimously in favour of the mine.

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