A man walking along a grassy cliff top path with the sea below and a wind farm on the horizon

Cumbria coalmine damaging environment, jobs, and reputation

A new coal mine in Whitehaven has been approved. The UK steel industry doesn't need the coal and jobs will be short-lived. We show criticism from industry, economics and worldwide politicians.
  Published:  20 Dec 2022    |      Last updated:  20 Jun 2024    |      4 minute read

Friends of the Earth is an environmental justice organisation, so you’d expect us to oppose a new coal mine that'll add millions of tonnes of carbon and further fuel climate change.

But it’s not just us who think this mine is a bad idea. Leaders in industry, economics and politics agree that this coal won't lower energy bills because it won't be used to produce energy, it’s not wanted by the UK steel industry, and it won't reduce coal imports, with over 80% of the coal due to be exported. The mine will cause damage to our environment, harm our international reputation, and isn’t the best way to help areas like Whitehaven that need new, sustainable jobs in industries with a future.

Industry leaders say these are dead-end jobs

This is a completely unnecessary step for the British steel industry, which is not waiting for more coal as there is enough on the free market available. The British steel industry needs green investment in electric arc furnaces and hydrogen to protect jobs and make the UK competitive.

Ron Deelen, former Chief Executive of British Steel.

Adair Turner is former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – the organisation that represents UK industry – and he’s former chair of the Financial Services Authority as well as a former chair of the Climate Change Committee.

Climate vandalism and economic incompetence on a scale difficult to believe. Global coking coal demand will plummet from now to 2050 as iron-making moves to new tech. Future governments will have to bail out bankrupt asset and deal with unemployed workers stuck in dead end jobs.

Adair Turner, former CBI Director-General.

It is not clear cut to suggest that having a coalmine producing coking coal for steelmaking on our doorstep will reduce steelmakers’ demand for imported coal. On the contrary, when our committee heard from steelmakers earlier this year, they argued that they have survived long enough without UK domestic coking coal and that any purchase of coking coal would be a commercial decision.

Philip Dunne MP, Chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

So the coal from this mine won’t help the UK steel industry – over 80% of the coal will be exported. And as all European steel makers move away from using coal, how long will the jobs last?

Business wants climate leadership and jobs in net zero

Alok Sharma is a previous Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He was President of COP26 when the UK hosted the international climate conference in 2021, which resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

If this is about creating jobs, then, as the Local Government Association has said, you can create a lot more jobs doing this in green sectors.

Alok Sharma, President of COP26.

Rain Newton-Smith is the Chief Economist at the CBI, which has a vision for a healthier, more diverse, greener and innovation-rich economy.

It’s a huge step backwards. Coal is hugely damaging, we have the resources in the UK to accelerate our investment in renewables not go backwards. A sad day for our climate leadership and sends the wrong signal on policy. Business wants more climate leadership not less.

Rain Newton-Smith, Chief Economist at the CBI.

Opening a coal mine in the UK now is a serious mistake. An economic, social, environmental, financial and political mistake. Economically, it is investing in the technologies of the last century, not this century, and that is the wrong path to growth. Socially, it is pursuing jobs in industries that are on the way out, creating future job insecurity.

Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics.

Several steel makers in the UK and globally are now making plans to move away from coal and instead manufacture green steel through cleaner technologies... Those are the technologies and globally relevant supply chains that the UK should seek to gain a competitive advantage in and where new and secure jobs can be created across the country and for the long-term.

Aldersgate Group, a net zero alliance of businesses and others.

Whitehaven needs jobs. But jobs in new green industries, like renewable energy and insulating our buildings, will last longer and will help the UK become a world leader in new technologies.

Government's advisors say decision is wrong

The Climate Change Committee is an independent body set up in 2008 to advise the government on how to combat climate change and to report on progress on reducing climate change emissions.

It’s allowing a coal mine when we’ve been fighting to stop coal being burnt throughout the world.

...The whole of the Climate Change Committee, they’re experts, they’re scientists, every one of them thinks this is entirely wrong.

Lord Deben, Chair of the Climate Change Committee.

This is a very bad decision – supporting a technology of the past, with a very poor prospectus for new UK jobs.

Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee.
Group of people holding placards protest against proposed new coal mine in Whitehaven
Whitehaven September 2021 rally

So the UK steel industry doesn't want the coal mine and warns that the jobs will be short-lived. The government's own climate advisors don't want the mine as it isn't compatible with the UK's target of net zero emissions by 2050. And leaders around the world are stunned by the UK's apparent hypocrisy in pushing other countries to move away from coal while digging up and burning more here.

Whitehaven deserves better – investment in industries with a future, not in ones that belong in the past.

Friends of the Earth, one of the 2 main opponents of the mine at the planning inquiry in September 2021, is fighting the planning decision at the High Court in July 2024. 

The groundbreaking win against oil drilling at Horse Hill in June 2024 could impact on the case. Our case in Whitehaven argues that the decision to give planning permission was unlawful for several reasons, including the international impacts of the mine and the mining company's proposed use of international carbon offsets.

The victory secured by Sarah Finch against oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey may give us a further ground to strengthen our legal challenge against the Whitehaven coal mine. We were a legal intervener in Sarah's case. It concerns whether or not the developer has to report on the inevitable emissions from burning the fossil fuel, not just from digging it up out of the ground, when they submit their environmental statement as part of their application for planning permission for their project. This didn't happen with either the Horse Hill or the Whitehaven projects.

Funded by donations, our legal team won a case against the government in May 2024, when the High Court agreed for the second time that the government's main climate plan doesn't comply with the Climate Change Act 2008, forcing it to revise the strategy yet again. We're hoping for another success to help prevent an unnecessary and destructive fossil fuel project from going ahead.

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