UK should dig deep on latest coal decision

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coal miners gather in a pit

The UK’s energy future is not coal.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has ‘called-in’ plans by Northumberland County Council to authorise a new open-cast coalmine on a scenic stretch of coastline. The local council had indicated they intended to approve the Druridge Bay project, but this intervention means that the final decision will rest with Javid, following a public inquiry.

If approved, the Banks Group’s ‘Highthorn’ mine would be the largest in England, producing 3 million tonnes of coal over its seven-year lifetime. Calculations show this is enough to generate more than 8.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions when burned – that’s roughly what Honduras emits in an entire year.

Time for UK to walk the talk on climate

Burning coal is the dirtiest way to produce electricity, releasing huge amounts of toxic and greenhouse gases. These gases cause a wide range of harmful environmental impacts, including air and water pollution, and are a central contributor to climate change.

World leaders returned home this week from the G20 summit in China, where countries including the UK reaffirmed their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The UK has also committed to close its ageing coal-fleet by 2025. Proposals like Highthorn are clearly at odds with the UK’s international obligations and ambitions.

Coal no longer a profitable industry

Aside from its environmental detriment, the Highthorn mine is not a sound financial investment as the world transitions to cleaner, greener alternatives.

Global coal development is down 16% this year. The Banks Group was forced to suspend operations at its Rusha mine in West Lothian, Scotland earlier than expected, when the falling price of coal made the project unprofitable. International coal juggernaut Peabody Energy Corp filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after a steep drop in coal prices left it unable to pay a debt of over $10bn. Hargreaves Services plans to close six of its seven opencast mines in Scotland, and is currently reviewing its operations in Wales.

Jobs in fossil fuels won’t last

The local council has justified its support for the development on the basis that it will create 50 new jobs in the region. But the state of the coal market means the Highthorn mine could easily suffer the same fate as Rusha, ultimately leaving the miners out of work again.

Coal developments also have vast unseen social and economic impacts, with the potential repercussions for tourism and water and air quality negatively affecting economic activity in the region.

Illogical and unpopular

Druridge Bay residents have expressed dismay at the plans, and more than 10,000 people have lodged their objections to the mine, with the support of the Green Party as well as environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Aside from ruining a pristine coastal area with an open-cut eyesore, the Banks Group’s Highthorn mine represents a bad – and deeply flawed – environmental and financial decision.

Let’s hope Mr Javid seizes the opportunity to reject this unsustainable and unsound proposal and send a clear message to other fossil fuel companies. The UK’s energy future is not coal.

Further information and the petition by Druridge Bay residents is available here.

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