Church leaders protest new coal mine in Cumbria

The Columban Director in Britain, Fr. John Boles, has joined Archbishop William Nolan of Glasgow and Bishop John Arnold of Salford, both episcopal leads on the environment for England, Wales and Scotland, and more than 450 Church and Christian leaders, to send an open letter to the UK government deploring the decision to approve a new coal mine in Cumbria.

The first new coal mine in the UK for 30 years, they said it contradicts the UK government’s commitment to phase out coal during its COP26 presidency. The government’s advisory Climate Change Committee also criticised the go ahead for  the project. Its Chair, Lord Deben, described the proposal as “absolutely indefensible” and said its approval would damage the UK’s leadership on climate change.

Bishop John Arnold, episcopal liaison for the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said: “Despite a government commitment to phase out coal-mining, in spite of the possibilities of creating jobs in renewable energy production in Cumbria, despite the fact that U.K. steel producers will not use this type of coal, the government is permitting the opening of a new mine. While illogical, it is a blatant contribution to further climate damage at a time when the Prime Minister has recently stated, at COP27, that the U.K. is taking a lead in environmental care.”

The Columbans have long campaigned against fossil fuels, which contribute towards global warming, with Columban delegations at UN Climate meetings COP21 in Paris and Cop26 in Glasgow.

'Leave Cumbrian coal underground' banner
Photo credit: No New Coal

The letter was coordinated by the Young Christian Climate Network, supported by Operation Noah and Christian Aid. Other signatories included Revd Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury; Revd Graham Thompson, President of Conference, Methodist Church in Great Britain; Revd Fiona Bennett, Moderator of the General Assembly, United Reformed Church; and Mrs Elizabeth Allan, Clerk, General Meeting for Quakers in Scotland. Catholic signatories include a number of Laudato Si animators, LiveSimply parish coordinators and Justice and Peace climate campaigners.

The fate of the West Cumbria Mining project had been hanging in the balance for two years after the local county council initially approved the mine in 2020.

The project’s approval was suspended in early 2021, ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, after the government’s climate change adviser said it would increase greenhouse gas emissions which are warming the planet.

There were protests at the proposed site of the Cumbrian mine after the announcement. Around 60 protesters demanded an end to plans for the coal mine. Banners included, ‘Renewables, not killer fuel,’ ‘Stay below 1.5 degrees’ and ‘No More Fossil Fuels’. International concern included US climate envoy John Kerry, who has said he will keep a close eye on UK plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria.

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