New coal mines are incompatible with UK climate ambitions and unnecessary

EMBARGO: 00:01 Wednesday, 15 January 2020
Rebecca Willis Rebecca WillisIndependent researcher in climate energy policy and politics and a professor in practice at Lancaster University.07764 586

Plans for new coal mines are incompatible with UK climate ambitions and unnecessary, says new report
The proposed new Woodhouse Colliery in Cumbria [1] is not compatible with UK climate targets [2] and will hold back the development of low carbon steelmaking, says a new report by think tank Green Alliance.[3] It also refutes Cumbria County Council’s claim that the mine will be “carbon neutral”. [4]
Coal from the mine is intended for steelmaking, which would produce 8.4 million tonnes per year of CO2 per year, equivalent to the emissions from over a million households.
The UK has set a target to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and has committed to switch to lower carbon steel production, announcing a Clean Steel Fund in August 2019. The proposed Cumbria mine will jeopardise these ambitions.
The report outlines four ways the steel industry should be cutting carbon: using less steel; using recycled steel; improving the efficiency of steel production with conventional blast furnaces; and producing steel with new processes using renewable energy.
But opening a new coal mine at this point will hinder this strategy by ensuring the continued availability of cheap coal.
Professor Rebecca Willis, one of the authors of the briefing, said:
“The proposed mine is clearly incompatible with the UK’s climate ambitions and the need for a clean energy future. The new government has championed its commitment to climate action. It now needs to set out its policy on fossil fuel extraction, making clear that digging more coal out of the ground is no longer acceptable.”
Co-author Professor Mike Berners-Lee said:
“Cumbria’s politicians understandably want to see new jobs on the West Coast. But we estimate that the profits from the mine would leave the local area, with only three per cent of the turnover spent on salaries. We urgently need an active, low carbon industrial strategy for Cumbria and other local areas, to generate thousands of green jobs rather than hundreds of coal jobs.”
Dustin Benton, Green Alliance’s policy director, said:
“Clean energy has already made coal obsolete in the power sector. Our previous work shows that UK demand for coking coal would halve if steel producers opted for cheaper, cleaner steel production using today’s technologies. In addition, innovation in zero carbon steel production means this mine will likely become redundant in the near future, saddling Cumbria with an expensive stranded asset.”


[1] Woodhouse Colliery is a proposed coal mine near Whitehaven in Cumbria. The proposal, by West Cumbria Mining, is for the first deep coal mine in England since 1987. In March 2019, Cumbria County Council granted planning permission for the mine. The company’s plan is to commence construction in spring 2020, with coal production starting in 2022.
[2] In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. The target requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least 80 per cent reduction from 1990 levels.
[3] The case against new coal mines in the UK, by Professor Rebecca Willis, Mike Berners-Lee, Rosie Watson and Mike Elm. A policy insight published by Green Alliance, January 2020.
Green Alliance is an independent think tank and charity focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. Since 1979, we have been working with the most influential leaders in business, NGOs and politics to accelerate political action and
create transformative policy for a green and prosperous UK.
[4] Agenda Item 14, 31 October 2019, Cumbria County Council Development Control and Regulation Committee, paragraph 4.3
For more details, please contact:
Professor Rebecca Willis, tel 07764 586 221, email
Professor Mike Berners-Lee, tel 07900 954187, email

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