The UK’s Conservative government faces a year or two of recession and a weak economy, which will coincide with the home stretch leading up to the next 2024 general election. of England—, which in 2019 gave a vote of confidence to Boris Johnson’s Brexit, once again turn their backs on the British right. That is why Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has decided to act against the UK’s decades-long commitment to combating climate change by allowing a new coal mine to start up. The project has sparked criticism from the environmental community and has prompted warnings against it from the US Administration.
“It is a coal destined for the production of steel that, otherwise, would have to be imported. It will not be used for electricity generation. The mine intends to be zero emissions in its operation, and will help create local employment and expand the economy, ”said a spokesman for the Ministry for Territorial Rebalancing, headed by Michael Gove.
The new mine, Woodhouse Colliery, would be located in West Cumbria, England’s north-west coastal region bordering Scotland. It would focus on the production of metallurgical or coking coal, intended to produce good quality coke. Coke is a fossil fuel used in the manufacture of primary steel in blast furnaces. The Sunak government justifies a decision, which would mean barely 500 new jobs, in which the British industry is not yet prepared to produce “green steel” (with renewable energy) and should in any case import coke from other countries. Conservative deputies have been divided on the decision. Those defending seats at risk of a return to power from the left applaud the move, and are joined by the Zero Emissions Scrutiny Group, a section of the party’s right wing that is challenging UK commitments in the fight against climate change. “Our country will continue to need metallurgical coal in the immediate future, to continue producing world-class steel. And that coal should be produced here, and not imported from thousands of kilometers away, a way of increasing our own carbon footprint ”, defended the deputy for the Workington constituency, Mark Jenkinson.
Alok Sharma, the minister who chaired the work of COP26 in Glasgow, has been at the forefront of the most critical of the opening of the new mine. “The United Kingdom has spent three years trying to convince other nations to leave coal production in the drawer of history, because together we want to limit global warming to 1.5º. Coal is the most polluting energy source. The decision to open a new mine sends just the wrong message, and will have little impact on lowering electricity bills or bolstering our energy security,” Sharma told the newspaper. The Observer.
United States criticism
In a similar sense to the former British minister’s protest, although with greater diplomatic restraint, the Joe Biden government has also wanted to show its discomfort with London’s decision. “We are fighting to put an end to the incessant production of coal and fossil fuels (…) It is exactly the opposite direction to what supporters of meeting our objectives against climate change defend,” said the special envoy for this fight of the US Administration, John Kerry, during a speech at King’s College London. “No one in the world, that I know of, is financing new coal plants, whatever they are,” Kerry stressed.
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If finally put into operation, some environmental organizations have calculated, the new mine could increase annual carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tons, which would be the equivalent of placing some 200,000 more vehicles on British roads.
The British steel industry itself has questioned the arguments expressed by the Sunak government. “West Cumbria coal has very limited potential, due to its high level of sulphide [la principal causa de la lluvia ácida]. Add to that the drive within the industry to decarbonise, when the time comes for this mine to open, only one of the four blast furnaces currently in the UK will be able to use its coal. And that will mean that 90% of the production must be exported”, explained Chris McDonald, the executive director of the Materials Processing Institute, a research center at the service of companies working on advanced materials.
Exception to the cold wave
A different situation, although it also causes concern among environmentalists, is the one that has generated the Arctic cold wave throughout the United Kingdom, which has caused temperatures to drop in some regions to 15 degrees Celsius below zero. National Grid, the company in charge of guaranteeing and coordinating the connections and supply of electrical energy throughout the country, has decided as of this Monday to put two of the main coal plants in the country on alert. Initially, experts believe that its use will not be necessary thanks, among other things, to a coincidence in time with the increase in wind energy production.
The decision has been possible thanks to the fact that the Government already asked energy companies last summer to slow down the scheduled closures of some plants, and is a direct consequence of the crisis in the production and supply of gas that has caused the war in Ukraine. Gas and electricity consumption across the UK on Sunday night and early Monday has driven the price of energy in the country to record highs.
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