For the UK to open a new coalmine would be “hypocritical”, would “send the wrong message”, and makes “a mockery” of climate action, developing country activists and experts involved in global climate negotiations have said.
A decision on whether to go ahead with a new coalmine in Cumbria is expected from the UK government as soon as Wednesday.
Many Tory MPs are in favour of the mine, which would produce coking coal for steel production, despite expert advice that most of its coal would be for export and would add to greenhouse gas emissions, rather than displacing coal from other areas.
International concern is mounting over the possible green light for the new mine. Experts said it would destroy the UK’s credibility at a crucial point for global climate action.
Yamide Dagnet, director for climate justice at the Open Society Foundations, said: “This [mooted coalmine] is deeply concerning given the UK’s strong stance on ambition [in emissions cuts] and criticism of backsliding by others.”
“Cumbria is known around the world as home to the magnificent Lake District where romantic poets like Wordsworth began modern environmental awareness,” added Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in Bill Clinton’s White House, now an analyst in Washington DC. “Reintroducing coal mining at this moment of climate crisis makes no sense. It can only cause other nations to question Britain’s climate commitment.”
At the Cop27 UN climate summit last month, one of the key flashpoints was the perception from developing countries that rich countries were behaving hypocritically by continuing to use and develop fossil fuel resources while urging poor countries to give them up. The result was a fractious conference and a partial agreement that failed to produce the progress on limiting global heating that the UK, the US, the EU and other rich nations had hoped for.
Participants in the UN climate talks said that if the UK persisted with the mine, it would inflame these tensions much further.
One who was closely involved in Cop27 said: “We are past the point where we should be keeping coal open. We saw at Cop the erosion of the authority of the UK and EU and US because of ‘do as we say not do as we do’. This will only undermine attempts to speed the transition away from coal.”
Going ahead with a new mine would reinforce the damaging impression of rich world hypocrisy, added Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network International, a leading NGO voice. “Just three weeks ago at Cop27, the UK government presented themselves as a champion for [the Paris agreement target of keeping global heating to] 1.5C and even criticised some big developing countries for blocking progress on ambition, demanding that they do more,” she said. “The approval of this new coalmine proves yet again that the UK is all about posturing, double standards and broken promises. They point fingers and shift blame.”
Activists in developing countries added their voices. Lorraine Chiponda, of the Africa Climate Movement, said: “Investing in new coal projects is a mockery to African communities that have suffered at the frontlines of climate disasters in Africa. This is not the time to be turning back on commitments and progress made towards phasing out coal. We urge the UK to act responsibly and shut down coal.”
Andrés Goméz, of the Censat Agua Viva (Friends of the Earth Colombia) activist group, said: “While countries in the global south like Colombia are making ambitious just-transition plans phasing out fossil fuels, the UK is letting everyone down by going in the direction of more fossil fuels.”
Omar Elmawi, of the Kenyan organisation Muslims for Human Rights, said: “Granting a new coal mining permit is not just hypocritical but sends the wrong message to the entire world and especially the developing countries. The world is literally on fire and they are adding fuel to this inferno. They need to lead the dialogue on solutions and how the world can move past this climate crisis by leapfrogging to community-led renewable energy and avoiding emissions. We hope they see sense and stop with this tragedy.”
Steve Maël Dize, of the Care For Environment/CAN group in Cameroon, pointed out that the UK had made coal a key issue in its presidency of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow last year. “If a power like the UK, which was among the pioneers in the fight against coal, decides to reinvest to open [a coalmine], that would mean that it has long fought for nothing,” he said.