Labour Ignores Coal Mine-Shaped Elephant in the Room

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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.”


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

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

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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

No need for countries to issue new oil, gas or coal licences, study finds

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The paper is expected to reignite criticism of the UK’s Conservative government, which has promised hundreds of oil and gas exploration licenses to boost the North Sea industry. Photograph: Russ Bishop/Alamy

Researchers say world has enough fossil fuel projects planned to meet demand forecasts to 2050 if net zero is reached

The world has enough fossil fuel projects planned to meet global energy demand forecasts to 2050 and governments should stop issuing new oil, gas and coal licences, according to a large study aimed at political leaders.

If governments deliver the changes promised in order to keep the world from breaching its climate targets no new fossil fuel projects will be needed, researchers at University College London and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) said on Thursday.

The data offered what they said was “a rigorous scientific basis” for global governments to ban new fossil fuel projects and begin a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry, while encouraging investment in clean energy alternatives.

By establishing a “clear and immediate demand” political leaders would be able to set a new norm around the future of fossil fuels, against which the industry could be held “immediately accountable”, the researchers said.

Published in the journal Science, the paper analysed global energy demand forecasts for oil and gas, as well as coal- and gas-fired electricity, using a broad range of scenarios compiled for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that limited global heating to within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

It found that in addition to not needing new fossil fuel extraction, no new coal- and gas-fired power generation was needed in a net zero future.

The paper is expected to reignite criticism of the UK’s Conservative government, which has promised to offer hundreds of oil and gas exploration licenses to boost the North Sea industry, a policy that has emerged as a key dividing line with the opposition Labour party before the 4 July general election.

Labour has vowed to put an end to new North Sea licences if it comes to power, and also plans to increase taxes on the profits made by existing oil and gas fields to help fund investments in green energy projects through a new government-owned company, Great British Energy.

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Continue ReadingNo need for countries to issue new oil, gas or coal licences, study finds

New report accuses fossil fuel companies of greenwashing, but profits are up

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Aerial view of Shell Pernis in Rotterdam, Holland, taken 7 September 2023. Photo: Aerovista Luchtfotografie/Shutterstock.

A new report by the Senate Committee on the Budget details how fossil fuel companies have avoided tackling the climate crisis.

Last week, US Democrats released a report three years in the making detailing the ways that large fossil fuel producers including ShellBP and Exxon have sought to avoid responsibility for the climate crisis.

The 65 page-long report, jointly authored by the Democrats House Committee On Oversight And Accountability and the Senate Committee on the Budget, contains files subpoenaed from big oil companies that “demonstrate for the first time that fossil fuel companies internally do not dispute that they have understood since at least the 1960s that burning fossil fuels causes climate change and then worked for decades to undermine public understanding of this fact and to deny the underlying science”.

Previous documentation has shown that companies including Exxon knew about human-made climate change since at least 1981, and files released earlier this year suggest it may have been known since the 1950s. The importance of this report lies in proving that fossil fuel companies not only knew, but privately believed the science despite public rejection.

The files also show the tactics used by major fossil companies to discredit climate activism, the report says, among them “pivot[ing] from outright climate denial to a new strategy of deception. Instead of misrepresenting the science and the consequences of climate change, they pivoted to misrepresenting their business plans, their investments in low carbon technologies, the alleged safety of natural gas, and their support for various climate policies and emission reduction targets”.

Net zero?

Most major oil companies have made net zero pledges based on the Paris Agreement goal of net zero by 2050, but the report claims they are unlikely to be met. BP, for instance pledged to reach net zero on oil and gas by 2050, but is at the same time ramping up oil production.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that BP’s interim CEO Murray Auchincloss was clear that it would pursue an increase in fossil fuel production to meet demand, and internal documents gathered by the committees show that it was unwilling to publicly state a commitment to net zero in 2019.

In an internal email thread discussing a press request for comment, an official said “it goes a bit too far to state or imply support for net zero by 2050, because that would require policy likely to put some existing assets at risk, and we haven’t discussed that internally”.

This lack of action is further highlighted in a report released by thinktank Carbon Tracker in March, which suggests that companies including Shell and BP are far from hitting Paris Agreement goals.

Continue ReadingNew report accuses fossil fuel companies of greenwashing, but profits are up

Liz Truss Book Calls for Climate Laws to be Abolished and Boasts of Effort to Cancel UK COP Summit

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Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog.

Liz Truss and former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Asqar Mamin at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Credit: Karwai Tang/UK Government (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The former prime minister attacks flagship climate deals and makes false claims about electric vehicles, Russia’s influence on energy policies, and net zero.

The new book by former Prime Minister Liz Truss urges the UK, U.S. and EU to drop their landmark climate change laws, spreads falsehoods about green policies, and fondly recalls an attempt to cancel a major climate conference.

Truss, who is the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, resigned as prime minister in October 2022 after just 49 days in office.

Since leaving 10 Downing Street, Truss has attempted to expose the “deep state” forces that allegedly brought down her premiership, while advocating for “free market” ideas within the Conservative Party, helping to launch the Popular Conservatives group.

In her book, Ten Years to Save the West, which she is promoting widely this week, Truss writes that “the zealous drive to net zero”, the UK’s legally binding 2050 climate target, amounts to “unilateral economic disarmament” and is “a drag on economic growth”. She also claims that, while serving in the Treasury, she attempted to cancel the 2021 COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Truss writes: “We should abolish the Climate Change Act and instead adopt a new Climate Freedom Act that enables rather than dictates technology”. She adds that “the U.S. should reverse the Inflation Reduction Act, and the EU should abandon its equivalent measures”.

The Climate Change Act legalised the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. The Inflation Reduction Act is a $369 billion package of grants and subsidies by the U.S. government to spur green technology investment. 

Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have said that without “immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors” limiting global heating to 1.5C is beyond reach.

Restricting global temperatures to this threshold – the target agreed by the UK as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement – would prevent the worst and most irreversible effects of climate change, including floods, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires.

In the book, Truss also attacks climate advocates, writing that “the environmental movement is fundamentally driven by the radical left”, adding: “This ‘watermelon’ tendency is green on the outside, red on the inside – a modern rebranding of socialism. It features the same instincts of collectivism and authoritarianism.”

Truss writes that “we should cancel” the United Nations annual COP climate summit, and falsely claims that electric vehicles are worse for the environment than those powered by fossil fuels.

“In recent years, more radical forms of climate misinformation and disinformation have become mainstreamed”, said Jennie King, director of climate research and policy at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue think tank. “Such content continues to grow in virality and engagement online, but its impacts are vastly increased when platformed in the media or by politicians.”

King said “the normalisation of wild and outlandish claims”, with climate action “being framed through a conspiratorial, tribalist and anti-scientific lens”, can lead to “real-world harm”. 

“When such ideas are conveyed from the very corridors of power, it sets a dangerous precedent”, she added. 

The IPCC warned in 2022 that efforts to tackle climate change were being delayed by “rhetoric and misinformation that undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency”.

Truss Claims ‘Couldn’t be Further from the Truth’

Truss’s book is published by Biteback Publishing, a company owned by former Conservative deputy chair and major party donor Michael Ashcroft. 

The former prime minister dedicates a chapter to green policies, titled ‘A Hostile Environment’, apparently a play on the term used by the Conservative government about its anti-immigration policies

Truss writes that current environmental policies should be scrapped in favour of a “free market” approach. On energy, she calls for more fossil fuel extraction, advocating a mix of “oil and gas as well as nuclear and renewables”, adding: “The use of North Sea oil and gas is crucial, so there needs to be investment in that too. There also should be fracking in the UK.”

Fracking for shale gas is a controversial practice that risks causing air, water, and noise pollution.

She fails to mention that oil and gas firms receive major subsidies and tax breaks from the government, which would logically be removed in a “free market” energy system. The UK government has given £20 billion more in support to fossil fuel producers than renewables companies since 2015.

Truss’s book also attacks the multilateral UN COP process, which has seen agreements on transitioning away from fossil fuels, and financial support for poorer countries suffering the worst effects of climate change. 

Truss writes that “we should cancel the COP gravy train”. She claims that, in 2018, when she was chief secretary to the Treasury, she made “11th-hour attempts to ditch COP26”, the UN climate summit hosted by the UK in 2021, arguing that it was not a spending priority. 

At COP26, nearly 200 countries agreed to ramp up efforts to cut emissions, also calling on wealthy countries to double their funding to poorer nations that have contributed the least to climate change. More than 40 countries also pledged to quit coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel and the world’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

The book also spreads false claims about climate policies. Truss writes that “in the UK and Europe, Russia has funded anti-fracking campaigns”, a claim which is not supported by any evidence.

Truss claims that policies like “the switch from petrol to diesel in cars or the use of electric vehicles, have either harmed the environment in other ways or empowered our polluting adversaries elsewhere in the world”. 

Colin Walker, head of transport at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank, told DeSmog: “The notion that the switch to electric vehicles will have little discernible environmental impact, and make us dependent on imported gas and coal, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The total lifetime CO2 emissions of an electric vehicle, from being built to being driven, are three times lower than a petrol vehicle – a figure that will only get higher as our grid becomes cleaner. And while older technologies like petrol cars and gas boilers rely on fossil fuels imported from abroad, EVs and heat pumps can be powered by electricity generated by British wind and solar farms.”

Truss also writes of “ludicrous claims that pursuing a net zero agenda … will boost the economy and drive growth”. 

Walker added: “The UK’s net zero economy is now worth £74 billion, and grew by nine percent in 2023.  The wider economy grew just 0.1 percent. Talking down the economic opportunities net zero has to offer the UK is at odds with a growth agenda when the U.S., EU and China are all competing for clean industries.” 

Truss’s Climate Denial Ties

Truss has a long history of opposing climate policies. In the 2022 Conservative Party leadership contest, she attacked solar farms on agricultural land and, during her brief time in 10 Downing Street, she overturned the UK’s ban on fracking. (A policy reversed by her successor, Rishi Sunak.)

As DeSmog reported at the time, Truss’s leadership campaign received £30,000 from a pro-fracking lobby group, £10,000 from a climate denial activist, and £100,000 from the wife of a former BP oil executive. Truss received a further £5,000 from Lord Vinson, a Tory peer who has provided funding to the UK’s leading climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation

Since leaving office, Truss has received £250,000 in speaking fees, including £7,600 last April from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing U.S. think tank that has long promoted climate science denial. Heritage President Kevin Roberts provides a long and glowing blurb for Truss’s book. 

Earlier this year, Truss helped to launch the Popular Conservatives (PopCon), a new initiative run by Truss-ally Mark Littlewood, the former director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank which received funding from oil major BP for at least 50 years. 

At the PopCon launch, Truss attacked “net zero zealotry”, claiming voters “don’t like the net zero policies which are making energy more expensive”

.Additional reporting by Sam Bright

Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog.

Continue ReadingLiz Truss Book Calls for Climate Laws to be Abolished and Boasts of Effort to Cancel UK COP Summit