But environmentalists view it with horror. They say it sends a disastrous message as the United Kingdom welcomes world leaders, advocates, diplomats and scientists to Glasgow, Scotland, for a United Nations climate conference that starts Oct. 31. The two-week COP26 meeting is considered a last chance to nail down carbon-cutting promises that can keep global warming within manageable limits. “The U.K. sets itself out as a leader, but it’s building a coal mine, which is the most polluting thing that you can do,” said Rebecca Willis, professor of energy and climate governance at Lancaster University. “It sends a signal to the rest of the world that the U.K. isn’t actually serious.”
The coal mine where Cradduck once worked has long closed. The chemical factory that employed thousands is gone. The nuclear power plant is being decommissioned. For the 74-year-old Cradduck, a plan for a new coal mine that could bring hundreds of jobs is cause for hope. ClimateProposed mine tests UK climate efforts ahead of UN meetingAustralia gives in-principle support for net zero by 2050Saudi Arabia pledges 2060 target of net-zero emissions Prince Charles warns of narrow window to face climate changeADVERTISEMENT
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But Cradduck sees the mine as a sign that “at least someone’s interested in the area.” He says it “will provide jobs for people who have got mining in their blood.” The proposed new mine symbolizes the dilemma facing the British government: It aims to generate all of the U.K.’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035, and to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also pledged to boost prosperity in England’s neglected north with new factories, roads, railways and other infrastructure that environmentalists say is at odds with the government’s green agenda.
West Cumbria Mining, the company hoping to build Britain’s first deep coal mine in three decades, wants to extract coking coal — a type used to make steel rather than for fuel — from under the Irish Sea. It plans to process the coal on the site of a shuttered chemical plant in Whitehaven, 340 miles (550 kilometers) northwest of London. The company says this is a new kind of mine, far removed from the dirty, dangerous behemoths whose brick and steel skeletons dot the region’s landscape. Designs show curved modern buildings that blend in with the surrounding hills, and the company says it will be the world’s first net-zero coal mine, with all of its carbon emissions reduced or offset by credits to the Gold Standard Foundation, an environmental organization. Alexander Greaves, a lawyer for the mining company, said while opening a new coal mine might look bad at first glance, this project aims to be different.
“Showing these mines can be made by law … to capture greenhouse gas emissions and required to offset any residual impact … is true environmental leadership,” he said. Environmentalists scoff at that idea. “It’s blindingly obvious that the quickest way to stop these carbon emissions and to make radical changes — which we have to do in the next 10 years — is to stop opening any new coal mines,” said Maggie Mason, a local opponent of the mine. “The same is true for oil wells and gas wells.”
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