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Coal in 2021

Opencast coal extraction

Opencast coal extraction causes extensive damage to local environments by opening up the land like a quarry, destroying habitats and polluting the air and water. Imported coal, from Russia, Venezuela, Colombia, the USA and Australia, also carries significant environmental and human rights impacts.

As of July 2021 it was confirmed there are no more applications or appeals for opencast coal extraction in England. There are two opencast coal mines operational in South Wales.

Coal for steel (coking coal)

There are two potential sites for new underground coking coal mines. West Cumbria Mining Ltd and NAE want to extract millions of tonnes of coking coal a year from sites in Cumbria and the Scottish borders. The coal would be exported to European steelworks.

Both sites would produce coking coal which is processed into coke and used at steel works which use high carbon blast furnaces. Port Talbot and Scunthorpe steelworks use these methods and are the second and third biggest single source emitters of carbon in the UK.

It is possible to make steel without coal using electric arc furnaces and recycling as well as through direct reduction iron production. New methods to produce steel with hydrogen are being trialled.

Power stations

Coal-use in electricity declined to its lowest ever level in 2021, thanks to grassroots and NGO campaigning for a total phase-out of coal by 2025 which has now been brought forward to 2024.

There are now only three power stations left open in the UK, running occasionally.

Global impacts

Coal is the fuel that contributes most to climate change. Climate change impacts communities in the Global South, who least caused the problem, first and hardest.

The UK is also the financial centre of global coal mining, as many of the world's major mining companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange, as well as coal insurers and financiers.

The UK heads up the international 'Powering Past Coal Alliance' and hosts COP26 in 2021, but has yet to end coal extraction at home or fully end financial support for international coal mining.

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Ffos-y-fran, the UK’s last opencast coal mine finally shut – we’re not celebrating

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Ffos-y-fran: timeline of illegal coal mining

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