A new coal mine has the go ahead in Cumbria - but scientists are urging Boris Johnson to step in

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 3:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th February 2021, 4:09 pm
Climatologist Dr James Hansen, and Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, poses for pictures beside a mock grave reading "Climate Change, a Matter Of Life Or Death" (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the world’s leading climate scientists has called on Boris Johnson to halt plans for a new coal mine in the North of England.

Dr James Hansen, formerly NASA’s head of global warming research, has written to the Prime Minister to say the plans show “contemptuous disregard for the future of young people”, and urged the PM to “earn a special place in history” by tackling the climate crisis.

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The chairman of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, wrote to the planning secretary Robery Kenrick last week, requesting that he consider the impacts of the mine, both in terms of its emissions and the impression it gives of the UK’s climate priorities. 

Why is the mine being built?

The new mine will be built in Whitehaven, Cumbria, after the local council approved the plans.

While ministers have overturned local planning decisions previously on similar matters - such as the local decision not to approve fracking sites in Lancashire - the Government has insisted the issue is a local planning one. 

Ministers have defended plans to allow the mine to operate until 2049 (the year before the UK’s climate target of net-zero emissions by 2050) arguing that the coked coal it will produce is necessary in steel production. 

However, it is thought that around 85 per cent of the coked coal produced at the plant will be exported to Europe. 

‘Young people are fed up and for good reason’

The UK is due to host the United Nations (UN) COP26 climate summit later this year in Glasgow, when world leaders will meet for the first time to discuss the climate crisis since the Paris conference in 2015.

Dr Hansen wrote: “I write nine months prior to COP26, with much at stake for the young people of the United Kingdom and every community suffering the ravages of the climate and ecological emergency. Increase in disease, drought, fire and flood stemming from recent climate-induced events and trends foretell much worse to come. Unless bold political leaders set a new course for our home planet.

“Prime Minister Johnson, young people are fed up and for good reason. They demand that political leaders follow the science and take the actions needed to preserve and restore a healthy climate. If this COP is like the prior ones with soothing words and worthless ambitions they will be justifiably outraged. 

“In leading the UK, as host to the COP, you have a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory, earning the UK and yourself historic accolades 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 coal mine 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. 

“The contrary path is not so easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic. And by providing the acumen and gumption required to change our course, you will earn a special place in history and the gratitude of young people.”