LONDON, December 7 (Reuters) – Britain on Wednesday approved its first new deep coal mine in decades to produce the highly polluting fuel used in steelmaking, a decision that has drawn criticism from opponents who say it is the will hinder climate goals.
The Woodhouse Colliery, to be developed by West Cumbria Mining in north-west England, will mine coking coal, which will be used in the steel industry rather than power generation. Around 500 jobs are to be created.
The project, presented in 2014, was criticized by the British government’s independent climate advisory board, as well as opposition parties, climate activists and organizations including Greta Thunberg and Greenpeace.
“This coal is used for steel production and would otherwise have to be imported. It will not be used to generate electricity,” a spokesman for the Department for Leveling, Housing and Communities said after Minister Michael Gove gave the permit.
“The mine aims to be net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local employment and the broader economy.”
Most of the mined coal is to be exported to Europe. Planning documents show that more than 80% of the coal that the mine will produce annually is expected to be sent to an export terminal on the east coast of England after five years.
Greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal – such as in steel and power plants – are the biggest contributors to climate change, and countries moving away from coal are seen as crucial to meeting global climate goals.
Paul Elkins, professor of resources and environmental policy at UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources, said the mine makes neither ecological nor economic sense.
“The approval also damages the UK’s reputation as a world leader on climate action and opens it up to well-founded accusations of hypocrisy – telling other countries to dump the coal without doing so themselves,” he said.
The UK has passed legislation that commits it to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The chairman of the UK’s independent climate change committee, John Gummer, criticized the approval of the Woodhouse project.
“Phasing out coal is the clearest premise for the global net-zero effort… This decision increases global emissions,” he said in a statement.
The coal mine, about the size of 60 football pitches, or 23 hectares, would take two years to build and was estimated to cost £165 million ($201 million) in 2019. The mine is scheduled to operate for 50 years.
It will supply steelmakers in the UK and western Europe and will employ just over 500 people when it reaches peak production after five years, more than 80% of whom are expected to work underground in coal production.
Critics also argue that demand for coal in steelmaking is falling as the industry moves toward hydrogen.
Britain, the cradle of the industrial revolution, once employed 1.2 million people in almost 3,000 mines. The last underground pit was closed in 2015.
Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Muvija M; Additional reporting from Susanna Twidale, William James and Kylie MacLellan; Edited by Michael Holden, Deepa Babington and Grant McCool
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