The controversial decision to give green light to the UK’s first new coal mine in 30 years sparked backlash in the country and beyond. Biden’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, said he was closely examining the decision.

The UK will build its first coal mine since 1991 at Whitehaven in Cumbria, after Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, gave the green light for the £165 million (US$202 million) project last week. 

The new mine will produce an estimated 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal a year – 85% of which will be exported, and will create about 500 new jobs. It will also add around 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere yearly, the equivalent of what 200,000 cars generate.

The government justified the decision by ensuring that operations will shut down by 2049, thus not affecting the UK’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050. A government spokesperson clarified that the coal, which will be largely used for steelmaking and not to generate electricity, would have otherwise been imported. As the Planning Inspectorate put it, this means that the mine will have “an overall neutral effect on climate change.”

Nevertheless, the announcement has sparked a global backlash, with scientists, environmentalists, and even UK climate advisers strongly criticising the new coal mine.  

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, has said he is closely examining the impact that the new mine would have on climate targets, expressing concern that the project would send the wrong message to developing nations.

“I’m asking my people to give me a better download on exactly what the emissions implications are going to be,” he said in an interview last Friday. “Unabated coal is not exactly the direction that the world is trying to move in, or needs to move in.” 

In the UK, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) chairman Lord Deben released a statement, condemning the decision and arguing that phasing out coal use is “the clearest requirement of the global effort towards Net Zero.” 

In an interview for BBC Radio 4, Tim Farron, Cumbrian Liberal Democrat MP, said that approving the new coal mine is “like celebrating the opening of a Betamax factory.”

The only argument at all for this mine that I think has any merit is it will create jobs. The jobs will be created for a very short period of time and they will go if the business case for the mine is as weak as it obviously is,” he added.

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