The invasion by Russia of Ukraine is unjust and unjustifiable. It’s logical for other governments to try to cut off the money for the Russian regime, by stopping buying Russian products including coal. The UK government has announced that it will stop buying Russian coal and oil by the end of this year and Russian gas “as soon as possible thereafter”. The European Union’s timetable is faster – no Russian coal to be bought after mid August 2022. Prior to this conflict Russia supplied around 40% of the coal consumed in European power stations and steel works.
Proponents of the proposed Whitehaven coking coal mine, are calling for the Rusisan invasion to be used to justify extracting more coal in the UK.
Update: the decision on Whitehaven by Michael Gove is now due on or before the 8th December 2022.
There has been a delay in making this decision by an additional delay of a month. This isn't the first delay to this decision, nor the first time Michael Gove, as Secretary for State for Housing Communities and Local Government, has had the power to stop this application. As he held the role in the summer before Liz Truss briefly came to power.
Several years ago West Cumbria Mining Ltd, backed by an Australian company, EMR Capital, applied to extract coal from a new underground coking coal mine under the sea by Whitehaven, Cumbria. After a legal challenge the company is seeking to extract 2.78 million tonnes of coal a year until 2049. The Secretary for State for Housing Communities and Local Government said that the UK government would decide whether this application should be allowed to go ahead which lead to a planning inquiry in September 2021. The Planning Inspector had written his report and made his recommendation by Spring 2022. The Inspectors report will be made public when Gove announces his decision.
Previously Gove’s department has said that a decision on this application will be given on or before the 17th August 2022 after the original date of 7th July 2022 was going to be missed.
West Cumbrian Mining Ltd (WCM), the company behind the application say that if this coal were extracted 83% of the coal would be sold abroad. Only 13% of this coal is expected to be used by UK steelworks (it is coking coal, a purer coal than that normally used in power stations). On the company’s website and at the planning hearing WCM focussed on extracting coal in Cumbria and displacing coal imported to the UK from the USA, not Russia.
There are now some calls from long term proponents of the mine such as Mike Starkie, the Conservative mayor of Copeland, the constituency that includes Whitehaven, to approve this application on the basis of the Russian invasion. Others have suggest allowing the extension application at Abepergwm in order to stop the UK’s use of Russian coal. However no-one who previously thought coal at either site should stay in the ground has been convinced by this argument. The rational is misleading and counterproductive as shown in this brilliant article by Ukrainian climate activist Svitlana Romanko.
Svitlana writes, "we Ukrainians have a clear response to the fossil fuel industry and the politicians on its payroll: Do not use the pain and suffering of our people to double down on [fossil fuel] production, while deploying a “peace-washing” rhetoric that makes it seem as if you are, in fact, helping the world free itself from Russian tyranny. Fossil fuels themselves, like the missiles they finance, are weapons of mass destruction."
Comparably increasing coal production in the UK won’t impact whether or not coal is mined in Russia. There are several countries still buying large amounts of Russian coal. However, decarbonisation of the two primary steel producers – Port Talbot Steel works and Scunthorpe steelworks - will reduce coal demand significantly and reduce emissions, while keeping most steel workers in their jobs.
Additionally and crucially, the British Steel industry isn’t behind the Whitehaven proposal either:
Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute and chair of the UK Metals Council said, “I think it’s important to be clear that even if this mine opened tomorrow, it would not displace a single tonne of Russian coking coal from the UK – and I can say that with confidence”. Tata Steel already does not use any Russian coking coal. British Steel have said they can’t use the coal from Cumbria because the sulphur levels are too high. So there’s no possibility that a new mine can meaningfully displace any Russian imports.
While the end of Russian coal imports to the UK and Europe is something Coal Action Network and others have been campaigning for, we grieve for the way in which it has come about.
While the UK government may wish to hide its bad decision making behind world events, justifying a new coal mine because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine doesn’t add up. COP26 agreements need to be honoured and coal at Whitehaven needs to stay where it is – underground.
We are an environmental organisation dedicated to ending coal mining and use in the UK for the sake of our collective climate and ecosystems. So you’d think we’d celebrate the claim by Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd that it will finally stop mining coal today at Ffos-y-fran in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. But we’re not. Because the abject failure of Merthyr County Borough Council to stop…
People hailing from Cumbria to London, and everywhere in between, descended on the Mines and Money Conference in London across two days (28th-29th Nov 2023). We demanded that investors stop pouring cash into the mining sector, and instead invest in our collective future. Together with Fossil Free London and other groups, we greeted investors with…
The insurers that have ruled out underwriting the mine are AEGIS Managing Agency, Argenta Syndicate Management, Hannover Re and Talanx. These are the first financial institutions to rule out any involvement with the project, and the win represents a new phase in the campaign to stop the project from going ahead.
Today’s global actions focused specifically on the state-owned China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation (Sinosure), the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim), and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). Sinosure is said to be in advanced talks with the Ugandan government about providing credit for the project.
On 18th October dozens of protesters staged a sit-in occupation of the plush City of London offices of ten Lloyd’s of London insurers demanding they rule out insuring the proposed West Cumbria coal mine and East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Global mining companies are coming to London soon attempting to find investors in their ruinous projects at the Mines and Money Conference (28th to 30th November). Join our protests against it!
01 September 2022: Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd applies for a S.73 time extension to mine coal from Ffos-y-fran, and to accordingly delay and vary restoration works.
06 September 2022: Planning permission ends for coal mining at the Ffos-y-fran site, after 15 years and 3 months of operations.
12 September 2022: first reports to MTCBC have been made by local residents of coaling beyond the end of planning permission.
Over 30 Welsh NGOs and businesses have signed a letter to Welsh Minister Julie James and Deputy Minister Lee Waters, demanding they draw a line in the sand and announce ban on any further coal mines on Welsh soil. The letter was delivered on 11th October 2023.
On 15th September 2023, The Guardian reported that Tata Steel accepted Government funding to avoid closing its steelworks in Port Talbot, South Wales, by decarbonising it instead – but at a loss of up to 3,000 jobs. The UK Government is providing £500 million, and Tata Steel is expected to provide another £725 million…