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

Pictured: An artist's impression of the completed mine. Image: West Cumbria Mining Company 

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.

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 COP26 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.

“My mission as Secretary of State is to try and decarbonise the industrial process; we’ve got the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy coming out in the first quarter of this year; we have a clean steel fund that is encouraging steel manufacturers to decarbonise their process.”

Sharma also emphasised the UK’s success in decoupling emissions from economic growth in recent years and its upcoming policy moves. For example, UK Export Finance will soon be prevented from financing fossil fuel projects overseas.

Unlike Kwarteng, however, Sharma refused to comment as to whether discussions around the mine had taken place in government “either on an administerial or official basis”. He argued that, mine or no mine, the direction of travel for the UK on climate is “very clear”.

Sarah George

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