Why, when we are legally bound by the Climate Change Act – which commits the UK government by law to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels (net zero) by 2050 – has the levelling up secretary Michael Gove approved the development of the first coal mine to be built in the UK for 30 years?
In the wake of the UN climate summit, COP27 – and in the week that saw the start of its biodiversity equivalent (COP15) – the UK Government has given approval for a coal mine to go ahead in Cumbria. This, despite the proclamations from the prime minister around the war in Ukraine being the “reason to act faster” on climate change, not slow down and go backwards!
Opening a new coal mine in Cumbria: hypocrisy, lunacy and downright illegality
As an anti-fracking campaigner previously experiencing some blessed relief that at least fracking was done with (for now), I am blown away by the hypocrisy, lunacy and downright illegality of this plan for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years. There are legally binding carbon emissions budgets that the UK government signed up for, and yet here it is, breaking promises and laws and trashing what’s left of our international reputation.
I can hear too, the sound of the fossil fuel industry lobbyists echoing over and over; the same tired lines about this being good for us because of jobs, home-grown energy, local benefits, blah blah bloody blah. It’s the same story they told us here in Blackpool when they were flogging fracking. All lies and myth and smoke and mirrors, and tales woven from misleading reports that are paid for by industry.
This coal mine will not be of great benefit to the UK or the people of Cumbria; it is being developed in order to power steel production, not produce energy locally or reduce bills. Lord Deben, chair of the climate change committee, told Times Radio:
“The new coal mine will export 85% of its production. The government has produced figures that don’t include the emissions of the #coal being burnt. Nations importing this coal will take it and burn it.”
Sending completely the wrong message
And those 500 jobs the industry claims will come with the coal mine are nothing compared to the 6,000 that will come as ‘green jobs’, as Alok Sharma former president of COP26 confirmed, adding:
“A decision to open a new coalmine would send completely the wrong message and be an own goal. This proposed new mine will have no impact on reducing energy bills or ensuring our energy security.”
We have seen such positivity around the cuts to the UK’s dependence on this dirty fuel and the assumption it would go some way to reducing carbon emissions and bring us closer to those legally binding budgets. Yet this latest move signals loud and clear the UK’s willingness to breach the law, leave it to others and disregard the hard facts.
And what will be our response, the people who live in the UK?
For those with the ability to, there will be protests. People like me, who have seen it before and can’t un-know the facts of industries like this and their willingness to do harm in the name of profit. So, as it was for us more than a decade ago at the start of the government’s ‘dash for gas’ and the introduction of fracking to the UK, people will gather, and protest will be used to prevent this coalmine going ahead.
Breaking our climate commitments and harming communities
It’s ludicrous though, isn’t it?
That rather than regulators or government departments stopping companies from breaching our legally binding climate commitments or acting to protect communities – it’s residents under threat who are protecting themselves and their neighbours and there is no law to protect them. Human bodies will of course do all they can to stall this coalmine and in turn, the government will do all it can to stop those bodies.
The government is strengthening police powers to shut down and even criminalise protests, thus making a mockery of democracy. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, passed on 26 April 2022, gives the home secretary broad powers to:
“Make regulations without reference to Parliament and to decide on the type of protest deemed acceptable or unacceptable by the state. The Act implements a recommendation by the Law Commission to introduce a statutory offence of public nuisance and abolish the existing common law offence. The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment.”
Not only is this undemocratic, but it’s also totally hypocritical. As Zhang Bei, an assistant researcher from the China Institute of International Studies, pointed out:
“When it comes to demonstrations in Hong Kong, many UK politicians’ minds would immediately switch to an entirely different belief system where they reason that, regardless of the approach, protests there must be upheld as a legitimate way for the public to express their opinions, ‘no ifs no buts’. And any attempt to try to end the violence or disruption caused to society, including those by law enforcement officers, should be treated with suspicion, if not framed as ‘derailing freedom and eroding democracy’ outright.”
Are we a democracy anymore?
It is us, nature and the climate that need a law to protect us and instead the government is damning protest and taking away one of the last lines of defence against powerful industries. Are we even a democracy anymore if protest is criminalised?
And why should we have to do this as individuals when the harm being done is being done to us all? Never has a law been needed more urgently to ensure the end of the exploration, extraction, export and import of fossil fuels. In short, a law that would make sure that projects – like this – would never see the light of day.
The climate and ecology bill seems to offer the best hope of just such a law. If it makes it into law, it will address the full extent of the climate and nature crisis in line with the most up-to-date science. It is the only proposed legislation before the UK Parliament that ensures a comprehensive and joined-up approach to the emergency.
Zero Hour is the campaign propelling the #CEBill through its stages. Director, Dr Amy McDonnell, said:
“You can hold other countries accountable for jeopardising 1.5°C. Or open new coal mines. But you can’t do both. While Zero Hour focuses on the nature target through the Ecology Bill in the House of Lords, the full climate and ecology bill will be introduced again in the House of Commons. If you’re as angry as we are about the mine—take a stand and demand a law that acts on science. This is an all-party campaign to transition rapidly and fairly off fossil fuel dependency.”
The government could choose to do better
“I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”Marlon Brando, in On the Waterfront
On any given day, the prime minister and his government could choose to do better, be better; maybe even be magnificent.
The UK COULD lead the way, walk our talk and in the process, reduce harm to nature and the environment, increase the health and wellbeing of citizens, improve home insulation that would lower fuel costs along with emissions, fund decent, reliable, green public transport to reduce the need for more cars, more roads, more fuel, less nature etc. and most importantly of all, LOCK these commitments into law and provide the sort of regulation needed to ensure we don’t see powerful industries break that law or buy their way round it.
I’ll leave the last words to one who says it so much better, the respected ‘godfather of climate change’ former Nasa scientist James Hansen who wrote to the UK prime minister ahead of climate talks in Glasgow last year (a few PMs ago now, back in the Johnson times):
“In leading the UK, as host to the COP, you have a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory – or you can stick with business-almost-as-usual and be vilified in the streets of Glasgow, London and around the world.
“It would be easy to achieve this latter ignominy and humiliation. Just continue with the plan to open a new coalmine in Cumbria and continue to invest funds of the British public in fossil fuel projects overseas, in contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature.”
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