LONDON — A year after Britain hosted a major climate summit, the British government on Wednesday approved its first new coal mine in 30 years, stoking anger among environmental campaigners.
Coal is the planet’s most polluting fossil fuel, and the greenlighting of a new mine — a decision that has been delayed for years — is controversial in Britain and beyond, attracting unfavorable attention from people such as Greta Thunberg and U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry.
The British government has stressed that the coal taken from the mine will be used for the production of steel, rather than coal used to generate electricity, which Britain has largely weaned itself off of.
“This coal will be used for the production of steel and would otherwise need to be imported. It will not be used for power generation,” the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said in a statement. “The mine seeks to be net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local employment and the wider economy.”
Campaigners have said that the new mine will increase global emissions and send the wrong message about Britain’s climate ambitions.
The new mine, which will cost an estimated 165 million pounds ($201 million), will see the majority of its coal exported to mainland Europe.
John Gummer, the chair of Britain’s Climate Change Committee, an independent body that advises the government, said in a statement: “The U.K.’s hard-fought global influence on climate is diminished by today’s decision.” The advisory panel has previously warned that the mine will lead to a significant rise in carbon emissions while threatening Britain’s goal of achieving its legally binding net-zero targets.
The project is expected to create about 500 direct and 1,500 indirect jobs for the region of Cumbria and for Whitehaven, an ex-industrial town in the north of England that will welcome an influx of economic activity.
Nicolas Stern, a climate expert at the London School of Economics, said that opening a coal mine in Great Britain now is “a serious mistake.”
“Environmentally, it is adding to world supply and thus consumption of coal and releasing greenhouse gases, when there is an urgent need to reduce them. Financially, it is creating a potentially stranded asset. And politically, it is undermining the U.K.’s authority, leadership and seriousness on the most important global issue of our times,” he said.
A previous version of this story misstated how much coking coal the mine is expected to yield. Estimates say 2.8 million tonnes a year. The story has been updated.