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What influence will deliberate new UK coal mine have on carbon emissions?



The positioning of the proposed mine in Whitehaven, UK

Christopher Furlong/Getty Photos

The UK is ready to get its first new deep coal mine in three a long time after the federal government accepted 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 12 months, for use by the metal business within the UK and past, in response to the developer, West Cumbria Mining.

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

Why has the federal government accepted the mine?

It has been beneath stress from native Conservative MPs to permit the mine for years, with supporters arguing it should carry round 500 much-needed jobs to the realm. 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 overall neutral effect on climate change”. That’s regardless of evaluation suggesting the scheme would produce an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gasoline emissions a 12 months.

Can the mine actually be net-zero emissions?

West Cumbria Mining has mentioned “the mine seeks to be net zero in its operations”, which it should 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), informed the BBC. “They don’t count the burning of the coal,” he mentioned. “We have no way of ensuring that is net 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 won’t use coal from the Cumbria undertaking as a result of its sulphur content material will probably be too excessive, whereas Tata has mentioned it might use some coal from the mine, however in the end plans to shift to greener manufacturing strategies over the subsequent 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 possibly to not different international locations in Europe, the place steelmakers are dealing with related 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, equivalent to through the use of hydrogen or electrical furnaces. In Sweden, for instance, Hybrit is manufacturing metal made utilizing “green” hydrogen, which is generated utilizing renewable electrical energy.

Will the mine have a cloth influence on emissions?

The federal government argues the proposed growth “will have a broadly neutral effect on the global release of greenhouse gas emissions from coal used in steel making”. In truth, the CCC mentioned the mine would improve UK carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tonnes a 12 months, 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 it is a drop within the ocean in contrast with the metal business’s total emissions, which account for round 8 per cent of world emissions.

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

As host of COP26 in Glasgow final 12 months, the UK referred to as for international locations to “consign coal to history” and lobbied nations to decide to phase-out plans for the fossil gas. Approving a brand new coal mine on residence soil will probably be seen as hypocrisy, say researchers, and will embolden different nations to increase the lifetime of their very own coal industries.

“Developing countries such as India will view this decision as extremely hypocritical, and this move will do a disservice to the UK’s history of pushing out coal from its power system,” mentioned Sugandha Srivastav on the College of Oxford in a press release.

Paul Elkins at College Faculty London mentioned the approval “trashes the UK’s reputation as a global leader on climate action and opens it up to well-justified charges of hypocrisy – telling other countries to ditch coal while not doing so itself”.

Can the mine be stopped?

Regardless of successful planning approval from the federal government, some local weather consultants doubt the mine will ever change into operational.

There’ll nearly definitely 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 climate leadership”. A Labour win within the subsequent normal election might cease the mine earlier than operations ever get beneath means.

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