Top scientists protest ‘reckless’ opening of Cumbria coal mine

A group of the world's top scientists has called upon the government to stop the opening of the UK's first coal mine in 30 years, amid environmental concerns.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister and all MPs, the scientific community has condemned the proposed project to open a new coal mine in Cumbria, hoping that the current political upheaval in Westminster might sway the government to change its decision. 

“To open a new coal mine in the face of the climate crisis sends out the worst possible message to the rest of the world,” the letter reads.  

In January 2021, the government decided not to intervene over a decision to allow the construction of the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years, for use in steel production. However, following strong backlash from environmental campaigners, a  public enquiry into the £165m West Cumbria Mining plan was opened later that year.

The final decision on whether to approve the opening of the mine is set to be made by August 17 this year. 

In the letter, 34 climate scientists and other experts have condemned the project, raising alarms about its future impact on climate change at a time when temperatures in the UK and the world are reaching record-breaking numbers and putting peoples' lives at risk. 

“UK and international scientists are universal in their condemnation of the proposed Cumbrian coal mine” said Ed Gemmell, managing director of Scientists Warning Europe (SWE). “If the government allows the coal mine to open it will totally undermine the UK’s supposed leadership on climate action. As said in our letter, this would be a reckless step backwards into our murky fossil-fuelled past.” 

Chairman of the UK's independent Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, has said the opening of the Cumbrian coal mine is ‘indefensible’ while Professor Dave Goulson, scientific advisor to SWE states added that opening a new coal mine in the face of the climate crisis “sends out the worst possible message to the rest of the world.” 

The mine will remove coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for the production of steel in the UK and Europe. It has been approved twice since 2017. Defending the project, West Cumbria Mining claims it would create 500 jobs and pay into a community fund for 10 years. 

However, last year, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted there was “slight tension” between the approval of the new mine and the UK’s plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

In light of rising temperatures, climatologist and geophysicist Dr Michael Mann asked: "Why, when profitable clean renewable energy solutions are ready to go, would the UK allow investment in backward-looking dirty energy that is terrible for the planet? The UK would be much better encouraging development of its biggest free resource - wind." 

The SWE letter goes even further by suggesting there is significant economic advantage to be derived from the UK getting to carbon zero before other major economies, ideally by 2030.  

“Forward-looking governments and communities will seize upon this moment - especially in light of the Ukraine invasion and independence from Russian fossil fuels,” said SWE advisor, Dr Phoebe Barnard. “It is as an opportunity to reframe themselves more wisely for a significantly less wasteful, more sustainable and meaningful future. The time is now, if we wish to retain a stable planet, stable climate and stable society.” 

In 2021, research published by SWE found that keeping global warming down to an increase of only 1.5°C was already out of sight and recommended adapting climate targets for a new 2030 date. 

“The world’s scientists are outside the window in the street screaming alarm at the top of their voices. It is now up to those in power to open their windows and listen to these voices before it is simply too late,” the letter reads.

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