Thursday, December 08, 2022

Britain claims new coal mine will be carbon neutral

Britain has just announced the go-ahead for its first new coal mine in decades. It is to produce coking coal for the steel industry, despite the fact that the two remaining British steelmakers are both moving to low carbon steel production, as are most steelmakers in Europe. Climate commentators, even those within the Conservative government itself, have panned the move, calling it "absolutely indefensible", both environmentally and economically, and many people are worried that Britain's enviable recent record of pursuing renewable energy is at risk, along with the government's stated goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and the British steel industry's goal of carbon neutrality by 2035.

What intrigued me, though, is the claim by Michael Gove, the unlucky minister chosen to make the announcement, that the mine would have "an overall neutral effect on climate change". (He also claims that the country "needs" the mine, even though at least 85% of its output is destined for export to Europe, if they can be persuaded they want it.)

How can a coal mine be carbon neutral? Coal is the most climate-damaging energy source we have - it is essentially pure carbon - and the new mine is estimated to pump about 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year to the atmosphere, the equivalent of adding about 200,00 diesel cars to British roads. In what respect, then, can the new mine be considered carbon neutral? That's a real head-scratcher. I know it's what people want to hear, but it needs to be true before you say it!

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