Kwasi Kwarteng admits tension between UK’s new coal mine and climate ambitions

19th January 2021 | Commercial Energy

BEIS Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted that the Government’s decision not to intervene with the planning process for a new coal mine in Cumbria is at odds with its domestic climate targets and the messages it wants to send as COP26 host. Speaking to members of the BEIS Select Committee this morning (19 January), Kwarteng was asked whether he was part of any discussions with colleagues or with Cumbria County Council over recent movements in the case of a new mine for metallurgical coal in Whitehaven.

Climate Ambitions

The Council approved planning permission for the mine late last year, citing the job creation potential and the fact that the coal extracted will be used in the steel sector rather than for electricity generation. The Government was given the opportunity to intervene but chose not to, on advice from Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Darren Jones MP, chair of the BEIS Committee, spoke to both Kwarteng and COP 26 President Alok Sharma during the meeting. He said, “It’s pretty embarrassing that we’re starting work on a new coal [mine] in the UK: surely you had a discussion with colleagues in Government to say this is not the right direction of travel.”

Kwarteng responded, “I think you’re right. There is a slight tension between the decision to open the mine and our avowed intention to take coal off the gas grid.” To this point, the UK Government is planning to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2024. The deadline was recently brought forward a year in what Kwarteng called a “rare” occurrence.
Kwarteng continued, “There was a debate in government around what we could do about this. But as you will know, this was a local planning decision, and the argument – which I think is a fair one – is that we have steel processes, industrial processes, which use coking coal. And if we don’t have sources of coking coal in the UK, we’ll be importing [it] anyway.”

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