The U.K.’s first new deep coal mine in three decades was approved on Friday, despite a government law to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-century.
A meeting of Cumbria County Council in the northwest of England backed the Woodhouse Colliery plans, which will extract as much as 3.1 million tons of metallurgical coal each year.
West Cumbria Mining Ltd., the company behind the project, is due to start production in the second half of 2021 and says it will create 500 jobs.
While the project is small for the coal mining industry, its construction would have significance for the U.K., which closed down most of its coal mines in the 1980s. The last deep Cumbrian coal mine, the Haig Colliery, closed in 1986.
The U.K. project is one of at least five other miners around the world that are pushing to dig new mines for steel making coal, as they try to find new uses for the most polluting fossil fuel.
Coal’s use to generate electricity has declined precipitously in the developed world and this year the U.K.’s power supply was coal free for two months straight.
Green campaigners also say the project flies in the face of the government’s pledge to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and undermines the U.K.’s aspiration to be a global leader on climate change.
As host of the next round of United Nations backed climate talks, known as COP26, the U.K. is trying to galvanize other countries to pledge their own net zero goals. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host a virtual summit on 12 Dec. to encourage world leaders to set ambitious targets ahead of the event 26 in November 2021.
The mine had originally been slated to run for 70 years but West Cumbria Mining had to resubmit plans following a judicial review last year. Under the new plans, it will close in 2049, one year before the country must have net zero emissions.
“This project will not help us fight the climate emergency, nor will it provide the long-term job security that Cumbrian’s deserve as the U.K. rightly moves toward a green economy,” said Matthew Pennycook, the opposition Labour Party’s climate change spokesman.
The majority of the U.K. public are skeptical about achieving the net zero target, according to a survey by the center-right think tank Bright Blue published Friday. It found that 58% of the public believe that it is unlikely that the target will be achieved even by 2050.
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