UK accused of ‘rank hypocrisy’ over Cumbria mine as it hosts coal phase-out summit

Daisy Dunne
·4 min read
Artist’s impression of the new Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven (West Cumbria Mining)
Artist’s impression of the new Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven (West Cumbria Mining)

The government has been accused of “rank hypocrisy” as it today opened a global summit aimed at encouraging countries to shift away from using coal-fired power – despite repeatedly denying calls to intervene in plans for a new coking coal mine in Cumbria.

The UK is the co-founder of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group of countries, businesses and NGOs working to speed up the end of the use of coal in power generation.

Speaking at the first global meeting of the alliance on Tuesday evening, Alok Sharma, the UK minister appointed president of Cop26 – a key round of global climate talks to be held in Glasgow later this year – said countries “must consign coal power to history”.

“Enhancing international collaboration, particularly on achieving a just transition away from coal ... is at the heart of our Cop26 presidency,” he told delegates.

The UK energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who opened the summit, added that countries must do more to “ensure coal-generated energy becomes a distant memory”.

However, politicians and campaigners told The Independent that it was “hypocritical” for ministers to “lecture others on the need to phase out coal” while refusing to intervene in plans for a new coking coal mine in Cumbria.

The planned mine, which was first proposed in 2019 and is currently being reviewed by Cumbria Council, would produce coking coal for use in steel production rather than for power generation. If approved, it would be the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years.

The government has faced intense criticism from climate scientists, politicians and activists for refusing to intervene in the plans to date.

The shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “Ministers are giving the green light to a new coal mine while lecturing others on the need to phase out coal. As well as demonstrating startling double standards, it harms our ability to deliver the right outcome from the crucial Cop26 summit for our country and the world.

“The new mine is wrong for the climate, won’t help our steel industry and won’t deliver long-term secure jobs. And unless the government practices what it preaches on climate, our international credibility will be undermined, as will our ability to convince other countries to move away from fossil fuels. As hosts of Cop26, the government must do much better.”

Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader and the party’s environment spokesperson, said the UK “simply won’t be taken seriously” until it “does the right thing and stops the mine from being built”.

“The UK government is hosting a global summit on phasing out coal, while at the same time giving the green light to a new deep coal mine being built here in Cumbria – you couldn’t make it up,” he said.

“It just smacks of utter rank hypocrisy. We will get laughed out of town by other countries if we try and tell them they should be doing more to move away from coal.”

A report released last year by the think tank Green Alliance estimated that the mine would produce 8.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year – the equivalent of the emissions of more than 1 million homes.

Those in favour of the mine have argued that it would provide an environmental benefit by saving on the need to import coking coal for use in steel production. However, plans for the mine state that around 85 per cent of the mined coal would be exported for use in Europe.

Tony Bosworth, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the government’s failure to block the new mine has “shattered ... any illusion of the government showing leadership on ending coal”.

“Ending coal use, whether for power generation or for industry, is crucial for facing down the climate emergency,” he said.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, also warned that inaction over the mine risked the “government’s climate credentials”.

"Unless plans for the new mine are completely and immediately scrapped, Boris Johnson will have damaged the credibility and moral authority needed to demand action from world leaders as host of this year’s global climate conference,” he said.

The Independent approached a government spokesperson for comment.

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