Labour Ignores Coal Mine-Shaped Elephant in the Room

Original article by Tommy Greene republished from DeSmog

Demonstrators outside the proposed Woodhouse Colliery, south of Whitehaven, September 2021. Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Questions over compensation and employment could make it politically difficult for Labour to scrap the Whitehaven project, experts told DeSmog.

Labour has been urged to clarify its stance on the UK’s first deep coal mine in more than 30 years – as it fights an election campaign that has put clean energy at the fore.

The proposed mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria, would extract 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal a year from under the Irish sea to produce steel, emitting an estimated 220 millions tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime.

The mine has become a political flashpoint in discussions over the UK’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050. In 2021, the International Energy Agency concluded that any new fossil fuel extraction was incompatible with global decarbonisation targets.

Ahead of a widely predicted victory at the 4 July election, Labour’s lack of clarity on the polluting mine poses awkward questions for a party that has based its manifesto on making Britain “a clean energy superpower”.

In the new manifesto, launched last week, Labour says it will not revoke existing oil and gas licences, but will also not grant any new licences. The party has explicitly ruled out issuing licences for new coal mines and says it will ban fracking for good.

The Woodhouse Colliery was granted planning permission by then Conservative levelling up secretary Michael Gove in December 2022, but has been plagued by controversy over its environmental impact and beset by legal delays.

So far, Labour has failed to address whether it would seek to overturn planning permission for the project, and has not responded to DeSmog’s requests for clarification.

In contrast, the party’s parliamentary candidate for the new Workington and Whitehaven constituency, where the mine would be built, has been vocal in his opposition.

Speaking to his local newspaper the News & Star last week, prospective MP Josh MacAlister said the mine was “a risky bet for new jobs”. “The easiest thing in the world would be to tell you the mine will solve our problems – but it won’t,” he said.

DeSmog understands that MacAlister has also addressed the issue at a number of local meetings, including to a mining heritage group in Whitehaven. 

According to a source, he told dozens of residents in November that the area was better off without the mine. However, he reportedly stopped short of clarifying whether he would oppose the national party if it backed the scheme’s development.

When approached by DeSmog for comment, MacAlister’s team referred DeSmog to his views expressed in the News & Star, adding that they were “consistent with what he has said since being selected”.

projection released by YouGov on 5 June shows that MacAlister is expected to win the seat in a landslide, with a predicted 53 percent of the vote to the Conservatives’ 25 percent.

Rebecca Willis, professor in energy and climate governance at the University of Lancaster, told DeSmog that “the mine has huge symbolic importance” both domestically and in terms of climate diplomacy.

“You can’t be a leading climate nation and provide consent for new coal mines,” she said. “Those two things are fundamentally incompatible.”

‘Non-Committal’

Despite Labour’s silence, MacAlister’s position appears to align with that of Ed Miliband, the party’s shadow climate change secretary.

Shortly after the mine was approved, Miliband co-authored an opinion piece for the News & Star with Cumberland’s council leader Mark Fryer. In the article, they argued that the mine would be “obsolete by the 2030s and 2040s at the latest, because of changes to the global steel industry which is rapidly moving towards clean steel production”.

Miliband reiterated this message at a March 2023 Cumberland Economic Summit event in west Cumbria.

Since then, the national Labour party has revealed little on its position.

Karl Conor, a former Labour councillor for Copeland, told DeSmog that given the controversies surrounding the scheme and the interest of the local community, MacAlister and Labour will be unable “to get through the campaign without having to nail their colours to the mast”.

In contrast to MacAlister, prospective Conservative MP Andrew Johnson has strongly backed the mine, telling the News & Star: “It offers the best prospect in years to create new jobs, attract significant investment into West Cumbria and help to deliver the upgrade to the coastal railway.

“If elected I will work tireless[ly] to fight for the mine to open and those jobs delivered”.

Claims by West Cumbria Mining that the project will create around 500 jobs have been strongly disputed.

Campaign group South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) group, which is bringing a legal challenge against the decision to greenlight the scheme, said that “no methodology” had been provided by the mining firm to support these claims.

A source in the new joint Cumberland authority told DeSmog they thought the local Conservative party would “try to make it [the local election campaign] about the mine”. 

“In the same way they made the Uxbridge by-election all about ULEZ [London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone], Sadiq Khan’s flagship policy, the Tories’ electoral strategy will be to make it about the mine,” they said. “… If I was in their position, it’s what I’d be doing.”

Compensation Conundrum

Any new administration looking to block the Cumbria coal mine may be hit with a compensation claim that runs into the tens of millions, according to a well-placed legal expert. 

Matthew McFeeley, a lawyer with Richard Buxton Solicitors, has been advising SLACC on its legal challenge. He told DeSmog that much will depend on the judicial review, which is scheduled to be heard on 16 July, less than a fortnight after the general election.

“If the court were to find that the planning permission had been unlawfully granted, then it would all have to go back to the secretary of state for a new decision,” McFeeley said.

In this scenario, he explained, a Labour administration could argue that the climate and environmental impacts of the project are too great, and refuse to grant permission.  

If campaigners can successfully argue the mine’s planning permission is unlawful, the company behind the coaling scheme – West Cumbria Mining (WCM) – would not be able to issue any kind of compensation claim.

However, if the next government decided to revoke planning permission without a legal ruling, the taxpayer would be legally obliged to pay compensation, McFeeley said. The amount would depend on an assessment of how much WCM stood to lose from the permission being revoked.

The legal challenge is one of a number of hurdles WCM has to jump over before it can begin work at the site. McFeeley also indicated that the compensation claim could run into the tens of millions, or higher.  “They’re investing their money at risk at this point,” he said.

WCM vacated its offices in west Cumbria on the eve of the 2021 public inquiry after the Singapore-based EMR Capital, one of the mine’s major financial backers, oversaw a “cost-saving” programme. The company has until the end of 2025 to get shovels in the ground.

Other hurdles also stand in the way of the mine’s construction – including approval of marine licences, habitat monitoring and a risk assessment.

Despite the many issues associated with the mine, Professor Willis, of the University of Lancaster, said that scrapping the plans may still prove awkward for an incoming government.

“There’s a timing issue for Labour here,” she said. “They’ve promised a lot in terms of green industrial policy through Great British Energy [Labour’s proposed state-owned energy company] and publicly-backed investment in green industries. But that will take a while to get going.

“So, at least over the next year, you’ll have the situation where they’ll be saying no to the mine but they’re not saying yes to anything else in the area. That’s quite difficult politically.

“Until the community actually sees a physical project with attached jobs being offered to them, they’re going to be pretty cynical about it.”

West Cumbria Mining did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment.

Original article by Tommy Greene republished from DeSmog

Continue ReadingLabour Ignores Coal Mine-Shaped Elephant in the Room

Polluter Funded Reform Party Backs Oil and Gas Expansion in Manifesto

Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog

Nigel Farage, Reform UK’s leader. Credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA-ND 2.0)

One expert called Nigel Farage’s policies a contract to “bankrupt Britain and condemn future generations to climate catastrophe”.

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, which is funded by climate science deniers and fossil fuel interests, has launched its manifesto with a pledge to expand oil and gas exploration and open new coal mines.

The document repeats the party’s policy to “scrap net zero”, the UK’s legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It says Reform would “fast-track licences of North Sea gas and oil” and introduce two-year “test sites” for the controversial practice of fracking for shale gas, followed by “major production when safety is proven”. 

It says Reform would “increase and incentivise UK lithium mining for electric batteries, combined cycle gas turbines, clean synthetic fuel and clean coal mining”.

Coal emits the most carbon dioxide (CO2) of any fossil fuel. The world’s foremost climate science body, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has stated that stated that carbon dioxide “is responsible for most of global warming” since the late 19th century, which has increased the “severity and frequency of weather and climate extremes, like heat waves, heavy rains, and drought”.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that any new fossil fuel projects would be incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. 

Earlier this month, DeSmog revealed that Reform had received more than £2.3 million from oil and gas interests, highly polluting industries, and climate science deniers since December 2019 – amounting to 92 percent of the party’s donations during that period. 

Reform’s manifesto also says it would impose billions of pounds’ worth of taxes on renewable energy, claiming that renewables have increased energy bills. The party says that scrapping net zero would save the UK £30 billion a year – a claim that contradicts the views of scientists and economists. 

The Climate Change Committee, which advises the government on its net zero policies, has estimated that the cost of achieving net zero will be less than 1 percent of the UK’s annual economic output. The government independent spending watchdog – the Office for Budget Responsibility – has said that, “the costs of failing to get climate change under control would be much larger than those of bringing emissions down to net zero”.

Ed Matthew, campaigns director at the energy think tank E3G, said: “Nigel Farage’s pitch to obliterate net zero investment would damage the UK’s economic recovery and keep UK households hooked on high-cost gas.

“Net zero is the economic opportunity of the century. Farage is a climate change denier, in the pocket of fossil fuel vested interests, and he has presented a ‘contract’ to bankrupt Britain and condemn future generations to climate catastrophe.”

Dirty Donors

Reform has received a fortune from wealthy donors who either deny climate science or have interests in polluting industries. 

Since 2019, Reform has received more than £1.1 million in donations from Richard Tice, the party’s former leader and current chairman, plus more than 50 loans collectively worth around £1.4 million from a Tice-owned company called Tisun Investments.

Tice is one of the UK’s most prominent climate science deniers, using his presenting role on the right-wing broadcaster GB News to attack net zero policies and the science behind them. Tice has claimed that “there is no climate crisis” and expressed the view that “CO2 isn’t a poison. It’s plant food”.

Reform has received more than £500,000 since the last general election from Jeremy Hosking, whose investment firm Hosking Partners had more than $134 million (around £108 million) invested in the energy sector at the close of 2021, two thirds of which was in the oil industry, along with millions in coal and gas. 

Hosking previously told DeSmog: “I do not have millions in fossil fuels; it is the clients of Hosking Partners who are the beneficiaries of these investments.”

Farage also has a history of denying the science of climate change and attacking green policies. Speaking on GB News in August 2021, he said that he was “very much an environmentalist” and that he couldn’t “abide things like plastics in our seas, pollution in our rivers.” However, on the issue of climate change, he added: “What annoys me though, is this complete obsession with carbon dioxide almost to the exclusion of everything else, the alarmism that comes with it, based on dodgy predictions and science.”

The IPCC has stated that it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.

Reform has also received £200,000 from First Corporate Consultants, a firm owned by Terence Mordaunt, a director and former chair of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s leading climate science denial group. 

‘Problematic’ Policies

Reform’s previous manifesto, which was on the party’s website as of last week, said the government’s windfall tax on oil and gas companies should be “scrapped”. It is not clear whether this is still Reform policy, as it does not appear in the new manifesto.

“Everyone can see that the oil and gas companies have raked in billions in profits since the start of the energy crisis and that it is the soaring price of gas – and our high dependency on it – that lies at the root of our high energy bills”, said Tessa Khan, executive director of environmental campaign group Uplift.

She added: “Our energy system is broken, but the only way to fix it is to phase out gas, not double down on new drilling, while scrapping support for insulation and renewables, as Reform is proposing.”

Analysis by the independent research group, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), today called the numbers in Reform’s manifesto “problematic”, adding: “Spending reductions would save less than stated, and the tax cuts would cost more than stated, by a margin of tens of billions of pounds per year.”

In May, a Reform spokesperson told DeSmog: “Climate change is real, Reform UK believes we must adapt, rather than foolishly think you can stop it. 

“We are proud to be the only party to understand that economic growth depends on cheap domestic energy and we are proud that we are the only party that are climate science realists, realising you can not stop the power of the sun, volcanoes or sea level oscillation.”

In May, DeSmog revealed that the Conservative Party had received £8.4 million from fossil fuel interests, highly polluting industries, and climate science deniers since the 2019 election. The party received an additional £225,000 from fossil fuel interests during the first week of the 2024 campaign – equivalent to 40 percent of its funding during this period.

An investigation last week mapped the Conservatives’ ties to a network of climate denial and fossil fuel interests, and the party last week launched its manifesto by promising to issue more oil and gas licences. 

Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog

Continue ReadingPolluter Funded Reform Party Backs Oil and Gas Expansion in Manifesto

Olympics 2024: how extreme weather could impact Paris games

Getty

The summer Olympics and Paralympic games in Paris are just over a month away and there is concern about the potential effects of extreme heat.

Some parts of Europe have already registered temperatures over 40C and it is not unreasonable to suggest that elsewhere in Europe will experience heatwaves in the coming months.

In a report published on Tuesday, Lord Coe, President of World Athletics, says “climate change should increasingly be viewed as an existential threat to sport”.

We don’t know what the forecast will be for Paris during the Olympic period, but Meteo France – the national weather service – has said that summer is likely to be warmer than average, external.

France has experienced deadly summer heatwaves in the past.

The highest recorded temperature in Paris is 42.6C set at the end of July 2019.

And more recently in 2022, during the Olympic period, a lengthy heatwave saw maximum temperatures reach 36C.

That year the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies in France estimated heat-related deaths of 11,000 throughout the summer.

Continue ReadingOlympics 2024: how extreme weather could impact Paris games

There is no climate plan other than to let the planet burn

You know this don’t you? Temperature records continually getting broken, US Secretary General Antonio Guterres continually warning about climate hell, politicians and fossil fuel cnuts continuing to destroy the planet.

The solution is known and has been know since the 1960s and 70s – it is simply to stop burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuel companies have known, lied and deceived. Politicians in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry offer and do nothing.

Action was needed decades ago and shite politicians have failed us all. You can’t leave it to the profiteers or the politicians that they own if you want a planet you can live on – they quite clearly don’t give a feck about anything other than money and power.

Continue ReadingThere is no climate plan other than to let the planet burn

The world no longer needs new fossil fuels – and the UK could lead the way in making them taboo

Savva_25/Shutterstock

Greg Muttitt, UCL; Fergus Green, UCL, and Steve Pye, UCL

North Sea oil and gas has become a battleground issue in the UK general election.

The Labour party’s manifesto promises an end to issuing new licenses for finding oil and gas. The Conservative party meanwhile proposes a law that would require the next government to hold a licensing round every year.

Our recent study found that new fossil fuels are not needed, and that stopping the extraction of new coal, oil and gas is among the best ways to tackle the climate crisis.

Scientific assessments tell us that global warming above 1.5°C will mean escalating danger to the environment, human health and the economy. We found that, in a world that limits warming to 1.5°C, remaining global demand for fossil fuels could be met by assets that have already been built.

This means that Labour’s plans do not go far enough. Even under existing licenses, new oil and gas fields need not be opened, nor new platforms and pipelines built.

Surplus to requirements

Our research confirms an earlier finding of policy experts at the International Energy Agency (IEA): that no new fields are needed to meet energy demand as the world attempts to achieve net zero emissions. However, our analysis goes further by demonstrating that no new fossil-fuelled power stations are needed either.

If governments stop new projects, the production and consumption of fossil fuel will gradually decline over coming decades as existing assets reach the end of their lifespans. This gradual transition will give time to plan the process, to protect and create jobs and to build solar and wind farms that meet energy demand as fossil fuels are phased out.

A seaman working on an offshore rig.
Winding down the fossil fuel industry should allow workers time to retrain.
Arild Lilleboe/Shutterstock

A stop to new fossil fuel projects is essential to “transitioning away” from coal, oil and gas, which is what governments agreed to do in December 2023 at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. This is a necessary commitment, but since it is expressed as a vague and collective goal with an indeterminate end point, it is easy for governments to pay lip service to it while maintaining business-as-usual.

The IEA recently reported that global investment in fossil fuels has increased every year since 2020, even as governments announced net zero emissions targets. An investigation by campaign group Global Witness found that the United Arab Emirates signed over US$100 billion of oil deals in 2023 while it presided over climate negotiations.

Commitments to no new fossil fuels, such as Labour’s plan to end new licensing, are less prone to obfuscation because they are specific and immediate. What’s more, it is clear for everyone to see if a new fossil fuel project is being built. Making commitments that are easily verifiable is a proven recipe for building international trust and cooperation around a shared goal.

There are also political advantages to stopping new fossil fuel projects. Coalitions that support fossil fuels, including oil firms and their employees, are more capable of organising against the closure of existing assets than the cancellation of those yet to be built. Opposing coalitions, including communities living with the pollution and disruption of oil and gas extraction, tend to be more successful when mobilising against planned projects.

The new norm

By making a “no new fossil fuels” commitment, governments can help establish a new norm.

A norm is an expected standard of behaviour, like the norm against smoking in indoor public places, or the international norm against slavery. The more states and global institutions adopt a norm the more social pressure it places on others to follow suit. Once a critical mass has adopted the norm, its spread is self-sustaining.

Arguably, this process is well underway for coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel. The Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group of governments committed to phasing out coal power, was founded in 2017 by the UK and Canada. Already the alliance has expanded to include 60 national governments, including major coal consumers Germany and the US.

An excavator piles coal onto a truck.
Global coal demand rose when gas prices spiked in 2021 and 2022.
Roman Vasilenia/Shutterstock

The process of norm-building is gathering pace for other fossil fuels too. Governments that become core members of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, which so far numbers 15, commit to issuing no new licenses for oil and gas exploration on a path to the total phase-out of fossil fuel production.

The Clean Energy Transition Partnership, comprising 41 governments and financial institutions, commits to ending international lending for fossil fuel projects. And in the private sector, 22 financial institutions have pledged to stop financing new oil and gas projects.

Were a future UK government to commit to stopping new oil and gas fields, it would lend considerable momentum to the norm, given the UK’s role in the history of the oil industry and the fact that is home to BP and Shell, two of the world’s five “supermajor” oil companies.

The UK Climate Change Committee, the government’s independent advisers, has noted that stopping new oil and gas projects would send an important signal to other countries. Such a move would also restore the UK’s reputation as an international leader on tackling climate change, at a critical time when the climate-denying far right is making inroads.


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Greg Muttitt, Honorary Research Fellow, Energy & Climate Change, UCL; Fergus Green, Lecturer in Political Theory and Public Policy, UCL, and Steve Pye, Associate Professor in Energy Systems, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingThe world no longer needs new fossil fuels – and the UK could lead the way in making them taboo