What would be the local weather influence of a brand new coal mine within the UK?

The site of the proposed mine in Whitehaven, UK

The location of the proposed mine in Whitehaven, UK

Christopher Furlong/Getty Pictures

The UK is ready to get its first new deep coal mine in three a long time after the federal government authorised plans for a undertaking in Cumbria, regardless of widespread opposition on environmental grounds.

The Woodhouse Colliery in Whitehaven will produce about 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal a yr, for use by the metal trade within the UK and past, in accordance with the developer, West Cumbria Mining.

However the undertaking has confronted fierce opposition from scientists and environmental campaigners, who argue the UK must be investing in inexperienced metal applied sciences somewhat than supporting a brand new fossil gasoline scheme.

Why has the federal government authorised the mine?

It has been beneath stress from native Conservative MPs to permit the mine for years, with supporters arguing it can deliver round 500 much-needed jobs to the world. But it surely shied away from making the choice whereas the UK was main world local weather talks, a job that formally ended final month.

After months of delay, Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, lastly granted approval for the mine on 7 December, explaining he was glad the undertaking would “have an total impartial impact on local weather change”. That’s regardless of evaluation suggesting the scheme would produce an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse fuel emissions a yr.

Can the mine actually be net-zero emissions?

West Cumbria Mining has mentioned “the mine seeks to be internet zero in its operations”, which it can obtain by minimising emissions from manufacturing of the coal and by buying carbon offsets. But it surely has solely accounted for a tiny fraction of all the emissions that will probably be generated as soon as the coal is lifted from the bottom, Lord Deben, the chair of the Local weather Change Committee (CCC), instructed the BBC. “They don’t depend the burning of the coal,” he mentioned. “We now have no manner of guaranteeing that’s internet zero.” The CCC is the federal government’s unbiased local weather adviser.

Does the UK want extra coking coal?

The UK produces round 7.4 million tonnes of metal yearly utilizing coking coal, primarily from two corporations: British Metal and Tata. British Metal has mentioned it is not going to use coal from the Cumbria undertaking as a result of its sulphur content material will probably be too excessive, whereas Tata has mentioned it could use some coal from the mine, however in the end plans to shift to greener manufacturing strategies over the following decade.

In truth, it’s estimated that solely between 10 and 20 per cent of the coal extracted from Woodhouse Colliery will probably be used for steelmaking within the UK.

The remaining will probably be exported – and doubtless to not different international locations in Europe, the place steelmakers are going through comparable pressures to chop the carbon footprint of their operations. On the continent, steelmakers are more and more investing in non-fossil methods of constructing metal, corresponding to by utilizing hydrogen or electrical furnaces. In Sweden, for instance, Hybrit is manufacturing metal made utilizing “inexperienced” hydrogen, which is generated utilizing renewable electrical energy.

Will the mine have a cloth influence on emissions?

The federal government argues the proposed growth “can have a broadly impartial impact on the worldwide launch of greenhouse fuel emissions from coal utilized in metal making”. In truth, the CCC mentioned the mine would enhance UK carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes a yr, and as soon as the emissions from burning the extracted coal are taken into consideration, the equal to 220 million tonnes of CO2 will probably be emitted over the course of its 25-year life.

It’s true that this can be a drop within the ocean in contrast with the metal trade’s total emissions, which account for round 8 per cent of worldwide emissions.

However even when the emissions from the mine itself are marginal, many local weather specialists are frightened that by approving this, the UK authorities has undermined its worldwide credibility as a local weather chief.

As host of COP26 in Glasgow final yr, the UK known as for international locations to “consign coal to historical past” and lobbied nations to decide to phase-out plans for the fossil gasoline. Approving a brand new coal mine on house soil will probably be seen as hypocrisy, say researchers, and will embolden different nations to increase the lifetime of their very own coal industries.

“Growing international locations corresponding to India will view this choice as extraordinarily hypocritical, and this transfer will do a disservice to the UK’s historical past of pushing out coal from its energy system,” mentioned Sugandha Srivastav on the College of Oxford in a press release.

Paul Elkins at College School London mentioned the approval “trashes the UK’s status as a world chief on local weather motion and opens it as much as well-justified expenses of hypocrisy – telling different international locations to ditch coal whereas not doing so itself”.

Can the mine be stopped?

Regardless of profitable planning approval from the federal government, some local weather specialists doubt the mine will ever grow to be operational.

There’ll nearly actually be a authorized problem in opposition to this week’s choice, with NGOs and legislation teams like ClientEarth actively scrutinising the choice for potential grounds for attraction, New Scientist understands.

A normal election might additionally scupper the mine’s prospects. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are each against its growth, with Labour’s shadow local weather and internet zero secretary Ed Miliband saying the choice exhibits the federal government is “giving up on all pretence of local weather management”. A Labour win within the subsequent normal election might cease the mine earlier than operations ever get beneath manner.

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