«Coal, cars, cash and trees [charbon, voitures, argent et arbres] » : By November 2021, the British government had found a rather effective slogan to summarize its action as host of COP26 in Glasgow (Scotland). It was about promoting the end of coal in the world, the transition to electric cars, funding to help the energy transition and replanting trees.
A year later, in apparent defiance of those commitments, and as the country was on the verge of abandoning coal – the last mine in the UK, at Kellingley in Yorkshire, closed in December 2015 – London has just approved the opening of a new mine on its territory .
The scheme, which has been in the works for at least three years but is highly controversial, has been approved by Equal Lands Secretary Michael Gove and is expected to create around 500 jobs in Whitehaven, Cumbria, a very rural county in the north west of England famous for its region of lakes (the “lake district”).
It is the first time in almost thirty years that the excavation of a new mine has been given the green light by the British authorities; the last to be excavated was at Asfordby, near Leicester in the Midlands, from 1987.
The United Kingdom was one of the very first producers of coal in the world until the beginning of the XXe century – it was the use of this rock as fuel that enabled the first industrial revolution – but the country has practically abandoned its use: only 1% of electricity is produced there from coal.
Damage to Britain’s international reputation
The Whitehaven mine could extract up to 2.5 million tonnes of coking coal (fuel) per year. Its production is intended for export and should go exclusively to the steel industry (and not to energy production), said minister Michael Gove. These assurances have not silenced the critics: John Deben, the chairman of the Westminster parliament’s climate committee, called“irresponsible” the decision of Rishi Sunak’s government.
Alok Sharma, who was president of COP26 and Boris Johnson’s minister, was also very critical and assured that the green light for the mine in Cumbria will “damages the international reputation” of the country by sending a very bad signal to the many other nations that have not given up on coal.
When he passed through London at the weekend, John Kerry, Joe Biden’s special envoy for the climate, estimated that the opening of the mine was underway. “in the opposite direction” for it wanted to combat global warming, especially if it was not accompanied by a system to capture carbon dioxide emissions.
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