Should the UK back coal-mining?

As we report this week, in a highly controversial move, the UK has approved its first new deep coal mine in decades.

The Woodhouse Colliery, to be developed by West Cumbria Mining in northwest England, seeks to extract coking coal which is used in the steel.

On the face of it, it is in some ways a good decision, especially given that it will create around 500 jobs, most of which are expected to be local, at a time when many are facing a cost of living crisis and the UK and most of the world is heading into recession.

And yet… and yet.

The UK once employed 1.2 million people at nearly 3,000 collieries. Its last deep-pit mine closed in 2015. Besides, it wasn’t so long ago that the Thatcher government decided that coal-mining as an industry was becoming increasing uneconomic, and embarked on a massive programme of colliery closures and de-industrialisation.

How economically sustainable will the new mine really be? Indications are from UK steelmakers that they aren’t interested in its product, and most of the coking coal will be exported to Europe. But for how long?

It seems to me this is a wasted opportunity, and shows a blatant disregard for global warming, as well as the UK’s wider commitments to reach net zero by 2050.

Why a wasted opportunity? Well, because demand for coal in steel making is declining as the industry moves towards hydrogen. This is the future, and what the government should really be promoting.

Besides, as has been pointed out, Cumbria has some of the best coastline in the UK when it comes to harnessing tidal energy. Wouldn’t it be better to create 500 jobs in the renewables sector locally than promoting an outdated technology that adds to climate change?

An analogue decision for a digital world, I’m afraid, and extremely short-sighted.

Marcus Alcock, Editor

Emerging Risks