UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Professor Henrietta L. Moore responds to the approval of a new coal mine in Cumbria

16 December 2022

Professor Moore explains why this decision represents a backward step for the UK in terms of its climate credentials and the net zero 2050 target, as well as why this decision will endanger livelihoods and fail to ensure sustainable prosperity for people and planet

Whitehaven harbour

Following COP27 a few weeks ago where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had stated it is “morally right” for the UK to honour its climate pledges, the approval for the opening of the coal factory in Cumbria significantly undermines the UK’s climate credentials and efforts to reach net zero by 2050.

Advocates for the mine argue that it will contribute to levelling up due to the 500 jobs it creates in Cumbria, yet this provides jobs just for 0.1% of the Cumbrian population (estimated population of Cumbria according to Census 2021 figures is circa 500,000). Instead, the Government should be focusing on creating new green jobs based on current and technologies of the future while increasing investment in green renewables. A less ambitious alternative for job creation, but still a highly important goal could also have stemmed from training and upskilling people to retrofit houses with insulation and other energy efficiency measures which would have a dual benefit of tackling both the cost-of-living crisis and the transition to net zero.

To genuinely level-up and tackle regional inequalities across the UK, we need to address multiple areas as people experience many forms of insecurity and inequality simultaneously. In order for levelling-up to succeed, we must not just focus solely on job creation but pay attention to the foundations of prosperity, the factors that enable people to lead fulfilling and flourishing lives. These factors are about the interconnection and intersection between good quality work and income; food and energy security; housing affordability and security; access to key public services like childcare and transport; and having a sense of belonging or inclusion in an area. This framework of ‘livelihood security’ is important especially during difficult times such as the incumbent cost-of-living crisis.

Reverting back to the past with coal mining will ultimately undermine the future prosperity of our planet and that of future generations. The notion that the mine will lessen our dependence on importing stoking coal is a flawed argument since the UK wouldn’t need to rely on importing coal if it did not require its use in the first place and instead were using more renewable, cleaner energy sources. The bottom line is that producing or importing coal goes against our climate commitments and what the UK pushed other countries to do in its presidency of COP, namely to “consign coal to history”.

According to the UK Climate Change Committee (UKCCC), only 15% of the coal produced would be used in the UK and 85% exported which will not lead to sustainable prosperity for the planet as we export increased carbon emissions elsewhere. Climate change is an inherently global challenge and depends on multi-lateral commitments and cooperation across countries hence, encouraging consumption of fossil fuels abroad is foolhardy, to say the least. Equally, the proportion of coal utilised for steel production is estimated by a steel expert to be a modest 10% or less while from 2030 this is likely to reach close to or at 0% as the steel production industry moves away towards less carbon-intensive methods of production.

The UK Government needs to implement whole systems change approach to successfully reach net zero and reduce carbon emissions. There are suggestions this mine would be ‘net-zero’ as a result of offsetting its emissions, however, we urgently need to switch from a position of offsetting to a drastic reduction of emissions which reduces offsetting requirements in the first place. We need to protect and ensure livelihoods continue to thrive for years to come yet we are endangering it by this poor decision.

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash