‘Coal is not the goal’: Teenage climate activists deliver petition to government over Cumbria coal mine

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick refuses to block pit despite hard evidence it defies government's 'net-zero emissions by 2050' pledge

Sam Hancock
Monday 08 February 2021 23:54 GMT
Youth climate activists launch digital demonstration against West Cumbria coal mine

A 17-year-old climate activist has sent the government a petition signed by over 110,000 people protesting a controversial coal mine set to be built in western Cumbria.

Elijah McKenzie-Jackson, from London, gathered 111,475 signatures for the appeal – in collaboration with campaigning organisation Coal Action Network – and has now written to communities secretary Robert Jenrick directly, asking him to prevent construction of the pit going ahead later this year.

The teenager went on a hunger strike last month, alongside 15-year-old Lissy Green, in an attempt to force ministers to listen to his pleas regarding the coking coal mine. He lost around 3kg and told The Independent at the time he felt “exhausted, quite weak and drained”.

Mr Jenrick has so far sidestepped the climate debate surrounding the mine, which is set to produce nearly 3 million tonnes of coking coal a year and 9 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions annually as a result, by calling it a “local issue” for Cumbria County Council to deal with.

Critics have rubbished this claim, though, after it was revealed by Gerry Carpenter – a senior planning manager at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – that the mine’s emissions will equal 2 per cent of the UK’s total carbon footprint.

As well as the petition, A-Level pupil Elijah submitted a digital demonstration video which showed 72 young activists holding up signs with slogans such as “There’s nothing neutral in new coal” and “Coal is not the goal”.

In the nearly two-minute clip, Elijah said his “future depends on mines like the one in west Cumbria not going ahead” and that his petition demands “the government orders a public inquiry into” it.

“The approval of this coal mine, and the signal this sends globally in the same year the UK hosts the COP26, would affect all of us,” he told a camera from inside his home.

“A public inquiry would examine in more detail the claims that secured this mine’s planning permission. Not least, the claims this mine is ‘carbon neutral’”.

In the approved planning application, seen by Coal Action Network, Cumbria County Council reportedly wrote it was satisfied the mine would be “carbon neutral” after being convinced by its developers, West Cumbria Mining Ltd.

“Imagine extracting nearly 3 million tonnes of coal a year until 2049 and arguing this will have no impact on our climate – with a straight face,” Elijah said about this in the video.

The online protest attracted almost 100 teenagers and kids from across Britain (Coal Action Network)

Leading climate figures have debunked claims downplaying the mine's environmental impact, with Paul Ekins, an academic at the University College London, saying the idea it would be carbon neutral is “nonsense”.

“The notion that opening new coal mines in England will not lead to increasing greenhouse gas emissions is quite simply, economic nonsense,” the professor of resources and environmental policy said in a recent video.

He added: “Opening a new coal mine does not mean that other coal mines will produce less coal or close, it simply means that there will be more coal dug up, looking for markets and the markets will expand to accommodate it. That is the story of coal since the industrial revolution.”

Meanwhile, Nasa’s former chief climate adviser warned Boris Johnson he risked “humiliation” and being “vilified” if he did not take immediate action over the mine’s imminent construction.

“Young people are fed up – and for good reason. They demand that political leaders follow the science and take the actions needed to preserve and restore a healthy climate,” Dr James Hansen wrote in an open letter published last week.

The pit is being built predominantly so coking coal can be supplied to the steel industry which, according to those in support of it, will mean the UK avoids having to pay hefty import charges when sourcing the material from elsewhere. However, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said in January that around 85 per cent of the coal is already earmarked for export to Europe, leading critics to ask why the site is needed.

Isabella Bridgman, 16, who lives in Cumbria, took part in the digital protest against the mine (Coal Action Network)

After submitting his petition and video on Monday, Elijah said: “In the year where the UK hosts the COP26 summit, the UK government must call in and refuse an application to mine coking coal, showing its commitment to decarbonising the steel sector.”

Fellow teen climate activist Isabella Bridgman, who took part in the digital protest, said she was calling on Mr Jenrick “to call in this mine, in recognition that approving [it] when the UK is set to host COP26 this year … is not only ridiculous, but actively harmful”.

“West Cumbria deserves better than a polluting mine whose existence is unsustainable in the long term due to the UK governments commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2050,” Isabella, 16, from Cockermouth in Cumbria, said.

Hannah Wright, also 16 and from Cumbria, added it “made no sense” to build a coal mine instead of “investing in a new source of green energy which will help to generate jobs and be both sustainable environmentally and economically”.

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