The UK may see itself as a climate leader, with cross-party support for a net zero goal. But, last week, local politicians granted planning permission for a proposed coal mine on the West Coast of Cumbria. Burning the coal from the mine, to make steel, will release nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That’s more than double Cumbria’s total current emissions. Following a deluge of expert evidence and media coverage, and the threat of judicial review, Cumbria County Council have finally accepted that the carbon emissions from burning the coal should be taken into account in the planning decision. But they claim that the mine will not add to the stock of global emissions, because it will simply substitute for coal mined elsewhere, so that carbon impacts are neutral overall. In other words, they claim that for every lump of coal mined in Cumbria, a lump of coal will stay in the ground somewhere else in the world. As the eminent resource economist Professor Paul Ekins wrote in his letter of objection, there is absolutely no evidence for this assertion. In a further attempt to lessen the climate impacts of the mine, planners have shortened its lifespan, saying that it must cease operations on 31 December 2049, the minute before the UK is legally obliged to reach its net zero emissions pledge. Again, this is a blatant misreading of the Climate Change Act, as expert evidence from leading academics argues. Local authorities currently have no statutory duties or targets on climate change. They are drastically under-resourced and, as the Cumbria saga has shown, ill-equipped to consider decisions of this magnitude. A decision on this mine is nationally and globally significant, yet many on the committee did not feel that they could, or should, make decisions like this, as one said, before voting in favour, “I wasn’t elected to do global issues, I was elected to do Cumbria issues”. The critical thing is, of course, to link the two: to devolve climate strategy, giving local areas the responsibility, powers and resources they need to develop local strategies that improve the local area, bring better employment while also getting emissions down.
Green Alliance Blog 9th Oct 2020 read more »