In the United Kingdom, the government creates controversy by authorizing the opening of a coal mine

The site of the former Woodhouse Colliery mine, where West Cumbria Mining received government permission to mine coal, in Whitehaven, England, December 8, 2022.

« Coal, cars, cash and trees [charbon, voitures, argent et arbres] » : in November 2021, the British government had found a rather effective slogan to sum up 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 with the energy transition and the planting of trees.

A year later, in blatant contradiction to these commitments, and as the country was on the verge of giving up coal – the last operating mine in the UK, at Kellingley in Yorkshire, closed in December 2015 –, London has just authorized 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 endorsed by Equal Lands Minister Michael Gove and is expected to create around 500 jobs in Whitehaven, Cumbria, a very rural county in north- west of England, famous for its region of lakes (the “Lake district”).

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It is the first time in almost thirty years that the digging of a new mine has received the green light from 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 given up on it: only 1% of electricity is produced there from coal.

very bad signal

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), Minister Michael Gove said. These assurances have not silenced the critics: John Deben, the chairman of the Westminster Parliament’s climate committee, called“indefensible” the decision of Rishi Sunak’s government.

In Whitehaven, in the north-west of England, on December 8, 2022.
West Cumbria Mining has received permission from the British government to mine coal in Whitehaven, in the northwest of England.  The city, December 8, 2022.

Alok Sharma, who was president of COP26 and Boris Johnson’s minister, was also very critical, assuring that the green light for the mine in Cumbria will “damaging the international reputation” of the country by sending a very bad signal to the many other nations that have not given up on coal.

Passing through London over the weekend, John Kerry, Joe Biden’s special envoy for the climate, judged that the opening of the mine was going “in the opposite direction” to that desired to fight against global warming, especially if it was not accompanied by a system for capturing carbon dioxide emissions.

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