This week, it’s been exciting to see the first ever UK Hydrogen Week celebrate some of the many UK hydrogen projects in the pipeline. The buzz is testament to the growing momentum of hydrogen’s potential to decarbonise a range of hard to abate sectors such as long-haul transport, chemicals, fertilisers, iron and steel.
To be clear though, right now, most hydrogen production is fossil-fuel based and the UK currently produces and uses about 700,000 tonnes of hydrogen per annum. Very little – if any – so far is low carbon.
But things are moving very fast with low carbon hydrogen demonstration projects being announced almost every week. The government is investing up to £240 million via the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund and it is developing an investor roadmap and business models and has outlined plans for a globally recognised low carbon hydrogen certification scheme. The European Commission has also published its definition for green hydrogen that now clearly states that nuclear-derived hydrogen – pink hydrogen – will not be labelled as “green” within the European taxonomy.
Getting “green” status is seen as a way to help unlock billions of pounds in funding for the nuclear industry. But, in the UK it is not yet clear if nuclear will get this status – the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association thinks that the UK should follow the science and label nuclear as green in its sustainable finance taxonomy to make it “cheaper and easier to finance nuclear projects from a wider pool of capital and (according to them) the UN confirms nuclear has the lowest lifecycle carbon, lowest land use, and lowest ecosystem impact of all electricity generation technologies.”
Long Term Reassurance on Cost and Viability Needed
In the UK – according to the Green Finance Institute (GFI), growing the UK’s green hydrogen industry could generate a cumulative GVA of £320 billion by 2050, including £250 billion of exports, and up to 120,000 new jobs by 2050.
Before this can happen, there is still a lot of work to do to find the most economical way to produce green hydrogen and as hydrogen is currently a nascent area of energy policy – better long-term funding and policy reassurance is needed to support early producers and users of green hydrogen.
If they get it right – the rewards will be substantial. According to research done by the RMI for the EU, supporting early producers and users of green hydrogen: spending up to €15 billion to offset investment risks, between now and 2030 could generate more than 20 times as much private spending on advanced clean energy technologies.
First Mover Risks – Hacking Through the Thorns?
The “first mover disadvantage” is presently a major barrier to scaling up quickly. For example, the current high electrolyser costs could make these projects uncompetitive in the future. At the sane time, to be financeable, a hydrogen project must also have an off-taker, but right now, for off-takers the risk is signing on to long term contracts that could lock them into paying higher-than-market rates in the future.
Green hydrogen is still 2-3 times more expensive than blue hydrogen (produced from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage). Most hydrogen forecasts show cost parity between green and blue hydrogen somewhere between 2030 and 2040 and falling technology costs and rising carbon prices will ensure green hydrogen outcompetes fossil alternatives. 
Multi-Coloured Hydrogen Opportunities for Cumbria
The North West of England has the industry, infrastructure and innovation to make low carbon hydrogen energy a reality and Cumbria has significant potential to contribute to this opportunity.
In our (the Green Finance Community Hub’s) Green Investment Plan for Cumbria – that was set up originally to look at alternatives to the coal mine (we have since expanded our focus) – we commissioned Arup to consider more deeply an emerging hydrogen strategy that included a large-scale, grid-connected green hydrogen production facility located at (or near) Harker, north of Carlisle. This would provide a means to overcome England/Scotland’s grid constraints using the strategic road network to distribute energy whilst unlocking the expansion of further onshore renewables.
Second, the plan is to use surplus power from the existing Robin Rigg offshore wind farm (in the Solway Firth), to generate green hydrogen and oxygen from an electrolyser located near Workington, adjacent to a wastewater treatment plant. The final effluent (treated water) from this plant would provide the water input to the electrolyser, and surplus electricity from the wind farm would be used to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The innovation proposed at Workington demonstrates a ‘circularity’ in energy use that could be replicable across the country at wastewater sites.
At the heart of our thinking on green hydrogen in Cumbria is Project “Collette” (as in collective) which would be a 1.2 GW community-focused offshore wind farm that would use excess power to produce green hydrogen, and this would create, effectively, a storage buffer to deal with the intermittency of wind as a means of transfer of energy to shore. We calculated, between 850 and 1100 Kt C02e of savings each year and these savings could be enough on their own, to significantly contribute to savings needed for Cumbria to meet its net zero targets. An essential component though is ‘Anchor’, high energy users or off-takers that offer a ready market for green energy generation, thereby underpinning the investment rationale either for the community, for the business or in a partnership.
The giant among such potential off takers in Cumbria is Sellafield, but there are many other large companies, institutions and utilities with large buildings and energy demands such as United Utilities, Electricity Northwest, Stagecoach, BAE Systems, Westmorland General Hospital. All of these have a decarbonisation agenda and offer potential hydrogen investment opportunities with a community element.
Moving All Things Forward at Once
At this early stage of low carbon hydrogen development and production, all methods and technologies for producing and using hydrogen should be explored to get the market moving. But most hopes rest on “green” hydrogen.
Excitingly, already in development, is Carlton Power’s Barrow-in-Furness Green Hydrogen project that would supply hydrogen directly to Kimberly-Clark’s paper mill along with other industrial off-takers in Barrow and the wider area. The project is initially expected to be 35 MW produce 3500 tonnes of hydrogen every year, with expansion capacity planned as demand grows.  Carlton Power is a good example of an organisation taking first mover risks, as detailed earlier and as described in our recent podcast.
In Cumbria, in addition to its green hydrogen potential, it is very likely that new nuclear generation including small modular reactors (SMR) will be able to deliver pink hydrogen by the next decade.
More controversially, there is also the Morecambe Bay Gas Fields with the Barrow Gas Terminal operated by Spirit Energy that offers a blue hydrogen opportunity with a massive carbon use and storage (CCUS) potential. Importantly, hydrogen allows vast quantities of clean energy to be stored for long durations for use in peak demand and seasonal energy balancing. Then there is the ongoing testing by DNV at Spadeadam in Cumbria that is working on building up the case for hydrogen in domestic heating.
Potentially, Cumbria has many investable hydrogen projects to help jumpstart the UK’s hydrogen economy and it is exciting to be part of it (albeit in a small way). Given Cumbria’s significant net zero contribution and job creation opportunity, it makes little sense that a coal mine has been approved as part of the mix.
 The cost of green hydrogen production is quantified using the levelised cost of hydrogen (LCOH) and this is driven by different technologies and scenarios for production. Green hydrogen is made by the electrolysis of water powered by renewable energy sources; it does not produce CO2 and so is the ‘cleanest’ option
This blog was written for Green House Think Tank as a ‘gas‘.
When I think of the word carbuncle I think of inflamed, pus-filled boils, but the word originally comes from carbunculus – which is Latin for ‘coal’ and is also another name for a deep red gemstone.
Like with gems, not all coal is equal. Thermal coal is used for electricity generation, while metallurgical coal is used almost exclusively by steelmakers as a ‘reducing agent’ to purify iron ore and convert it into iron needed for steel making in the blast furnace process.
Typically, metallurgical coal has more carbon, less ash and less moisture than thermal coal. Coking coal is a subset of metallurgical coal and is converted to coke by driving off impurities to leave almost pure carbon.
Given our insatiable appetite for steel and the superior carbon quality of metallurgical coal, perhaps then, it is indeed the ‘great carbon carbuncle’.
If Woodhouse Colliery is approved, operational emissions from the £160m metallurgical coal mine in Whitehaven is expected to increase UK emissions by 0.4Mt CO2e per year. This is greater than the level of annual emissions the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has projected from all open UK coal mines to 2050.
On top of the mine’s emissions, the mine will produce 2.78 Mt of metallurgical coal per annum or 65 Mt over its lifetime. The coal’s end-use emissions (Scope 3) when at peak production will be between 8.79 – 8.957 Mt of CO2e per year (and this number considers BEIS’s conversion factors (that change annually). ( And I’ve rounded this number up later to 9 Mt CO2e).
While there is still approval from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to come – if the mine gets the green light, it could take at least 2 years before production could begin [and then it will take a few years until full production starts (c 2029)]. But for ease of math, let’s say a start date of 2025 to 2049 (24 years) of 9 Mt C02e each year = this would mean West Cumbria Mining’s (WCM) coal would be responsible for about 216 Mt CO2e.
To put this in perspective, emissions for the whole of Cumbria were 3.8 Mt C02e in 2019 (BEIS, 2019). [Noting, this number doesn’t include Sellafield’s emissions which include an overall combined Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon footprint of around 280,000 tonnes CO2e in 2019/2020].
Planning Ping Pong
The mine first secured planning approval from Cumbria County Council (CCC) in March 2019 – ironically, around the same time, the UK parliament set in law net zero emissions by 2050. Since then, the mine has been approved several more times, the last time in October 2020 – but in February 2021, the Council halted its decision, and the plans were called in for a Planning Inquiry.
The Inspector has now made his recommendation to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove, and rumour has it he is supportive of the mine. But it’s not clear if the ‘rumour’ was ‘dropped’ to influence the local elections in Copeland (who generally support the mine for the 532 jobs it will create ) or if it was political kite flying. Gove has until July 7th to decide.
This is not the first time this controversial project has gone to this office, nor likely the last.
I‘ve already mentioned the importance of the 500 or so jobs (of which 80% would be filled locally) that the mine will bring. But another key reason that the Government is likely interested in this project as highlighted by the CEO of the mine, Mark Kirkbride in his Proof of evidence – is their projected steady revenue of more than £264 million annually, making a £1.5 billion contribution to UK GDP and providing £2.4 billion worth of exports in the first 10 years of operation. Over 20 years of operation – a GDP boost of more than £5 billion in exports (which is around 1.8% of the balance of trade deficit). Together, so says WCM, with tax payments into the UK Treasury of more than £800 million over the life of the mine.
Do these numbers stack up? No. Two years ago, Duncan Pollard and I questioned WCM’s business case, outlining instead that the Colliery risks becoming a stranded asset, as the use of coking coal in steel making will be displaced by greener steel methods way before the mine’s end date of 2049. If the mine is approved, any economic benefits in terms of regional revitalisation and jobs will be short-lived.
Until recently, WCM has said that their coal would replace US HVA coal, and 85% of WCM’s coking coal would be exported to the EU. The rest of their coking coal is for domestic use, for which, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), if the UK is to meet its net zero timetable, steel firms must stop burning coking coal by 2035. Unless they fit expensive technology such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and bury them underground.[iii]
Over the last two months, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has renewed calls to support the Cumbria mine, by some, as the UK sources 39% of its coking coal from Russia. Approving the mine, so say its supporters, would “help slash the need to import foreign coal”.
However, others see this as a trojan horse [v]. Industry expert, Chris McDonald who chairs the UK Metals Council recently said “I think it’s important to be clear that even if this mine opened tomorrow, it would not displace a single tonne of Russian coking coal from the UK. Tata Steel already does not use any Russian coking coal. Tata Steel have said if the WCM coal were available, then they may or may not use a small amount and British Steel has said they can’t use the coal from Cumbria [because of the sulphur levels]. So, there’s no possibility that it can displace any Russian imports”. [vi]
If this is the case, and to borrow a thought from the UN Secretary-General, it seems to be true that fossil fuel interests are now cynically using the war in Ukraine to try to lock in a high carbon future.
Mr McDonald went on to say that big players in the European steel industry have plans to reduce their reliance on coking coal from 2030 onwards. This means the mine is unlikely to have a long life. Former CEO of British Steel, Antonius Ron Deelen also said that Bristish Steel have been investigating the future and coal is not part of it. EAF and scrap are.
Perhaps then, WCM has missed the boat on the market. Whitehaven would, once again, become a stranded fossil fuel community, as it did following the loss of coal and steel in the 1980s, on which it thrived. It is the ‘just transition’ in reverse. Miners would become skilled in metallurgical coal – but only for a short amount of time. And then what do they do? How then do they earn their livelihood? Getting the ‘just transition’ right is becomingly increasingly important to investors.
According to Fiona Reynolds, chief executive of Principles for Responsible Investment, the US$80 trillion-plus alliance of investors working on environmental and social issues: “Unless we get the just transition right, we won’t win the climate battle.”
Understanding More About Steel
Steel is one of the most polluting industrial materials in the world after cement, responsible for almost 7-9% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), most of which arise because of the use of coking coal in blast furnaces during steelmaking rather than downstream manufacturing.
Producing 1 tonne of steel with traditional methods releases almost 2 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, and the world uses almost 2 billion tonnes of steel each year.
The UK manufactures a relatively small amount of steel, – 7 million tonnes of steel (2019) and most UK-made steel is manufactured in blast furnaces in Port Talbot in Wales and Scunthorpe in Yorkshire. However, it could be likely that prolonged high energy costs could see these plants significantly reduce production.
There are several ways to reduce emissions from steel production. From reusing and remanufacturing steel, recycling steel in electric arc furnaces (EAFs), the direct reduced iron process (DRI) using natural gas, and potentially hydrogen (H2-DRI) and using less steel.
The relatively low price of blast furnace steel production has stymied the scale-up of these alternatives. Green steel is currently more expensive than conventional steel, but the cost of producing hydrogen with electrolysers is falling fast and renewable energy is getting cheaper.
So far, the Government has established a £250m clean steel fund to reduce steel-making’s carbon impacts, including the shift away from coal, but the UK is yet to pilot clean steel technologies, nor has it set a policy framework. A decision by the Government to renew the UK’s steel installations is fast approaching, and it is not yet clear which technology they will adopt. For example, the blast furnace (no 5) in Port Talbot reaches the end of its life around 2025 and needs replacing (not with another blast furnace), having already had work done on it in 2018/19 to extend its life by 5 to 7 years.
Scrap Steel. The UK Should Not Waste This Opportunity
Recycling steel – unlike other materials, scrap metal is infinitely recyclable. In the short term, steel scrap can be melted down to make new steel in EAFs which are much more energy-efficient than blast furnaces and can be powered with zero-carbon electricity from renewables.
However, while EAFs do not require coal, a small number of facilities still need pig iron to blend with scrap and other feedstock materials, which usually require coking coal. Recycled steel also doesn’t work for certain high-grade applications, and more significantly, there’s not enough of it to keep pace with demand.
The UK generates about 10 million tonnes of scrap a year – Celsa Steel in Cardiff and Liberty Specialty Steels in Rotherham are two of the largest recycling steel plants in the UK. And yet not much of it stays here. We export 80% of our scrap to countries such as India, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt.
Direct Reduced Iron (DRI)
Another promising technology is the reduction of iron ore such as Direct Reduced Iron (DRI). DRI typically uses either “natural gas” instead of coal, or syngas from coal, as a reducing agent. When natural gas is used, steel-making can potentially halve the emissions of using coal.
The big buzz though is with hydrogen-based DRI and leading the way on this are trials by SSAB who are collaborating with LKAB and Vattenfall on the “HYBRIT system”. In fact, SSAB recently announced that they aim to be the first steel company in the world to bring fossil-free steel to the market in 2026 and largely eliminate emissions from its own operations in around 2030.
Hot on their heels is ArcelorMittal which has just successfully tested the use of green hydrogen to reduce iron ore at one of its industrial sites in Canada, in what the world’s second-largest steelmaker claims is a milestone for the industry. They are also investing ~ €1bn in green steel projects in northern Spain, with support from the Spanish government. Also worth mentioning is ThyssenKrupp Steel in Germany which also intends to use hydrogen and aims to be climate neutral by 2045, with an earlier target of reducing emissions by 30% by 2030.
Hydrogen is already playing an increasingly important role in the energy transition and it goes without saying a move to hydrogen will place downward pressure on demand and prices for metallurgical coal.
The UK is lagging behind on this and it needs to accelerate the development of hydrogen-based steel. With more government support, this could well be the boost the UK steel industry needs which has been in decline for some time for reasons such as high business rates and energy costs which have drained the industry’s capacity to invest in alternatives. Other factors which have played against them are cheaper products and excess steel capacity which has outstripped demand for many years, driven largely by China. And more recently that British steel companies will face a 25% tariff on exports to the US.
Timeline For Producing Green Steel At Scale
But for how long will the world need coking coal for steel making?
This is an important question and central to the debate over the proposed mine in Cumbria. WCM forecasts a sustained and long-term demand for coking coal until [at least] 2050. The UK Steel’s director-general has said that decarbonising steel production will be very difficult to do by 2035 since production methods are not yet available at a commercial scale.
Meanwhile, ‘green’ steel by 2030 was a key target that emerged from COP26 and the aim for steel in the Glasgow Breakthrough was to make ‘Near-zero emission steel’ the preferred choice in global markets, with efficient and near-zero emission production in every region by 2030 or earlier. Noting, ‘Near-zero emissions’ steel is yet to be defined but is likely referring to a greater than 90% reduction versus the conventional BF-BOF route, though both ore and scrap-based routes will be part of the solution
The steel industry across Europe is already moving to low carbon production steel-making, which inevitably will cut demand for WCM’s coal and those European steel mills still operating coal-fed Blast Furnaces from 2030 to 2035+ will suffer increasing costs of carbon because free ETS allowances for EU steel producers will be phased out from 2026 to 2035.
The UK Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, released in March 2021, targets a nearly fully decarbonised steel sector by 2035, based on recommendations from the UK CCC.
Develop and Invest in a Hydrogen Strategy for Cumbria and the North West of England
Steel’s future has tremendous implications for hydrogen, and it is encouraging that the UK Government is set to double its 2030 hydrogen production target to 10GW and will provide £375 million to boost green hydrogen production capacity. Just last week, both the BEIS Net Zero Hydrogen Fund (Strands 1 &2 that equals £240m) and the Industrial Hydrogen Accelerator (IHA) Program were launched.
A Three-Pronged Hydrogen Approach for Cumbria. The Opportunities of Hydrogen
West Cumbria (soon to be part of Cumberland as of April 2023) has an extraordinary opportunity to be at the forefront of the green hydrogen revolution using its abundance of offshore wind to produce green hydrogen.
Already in development is a three-pronged hydrogen project for Cumbria that is being led by Arup, with the support of the Cumbria LEP and a consortium of interested parties. While still in the early concept stage, the hydrogen propositions would be at Carlisle, Workington and Whitehaven and are defined by a “now, new and next” timeframe.
The project focuses on end-to-end development in the supply and distribution of hydrogen from electrolysis and is underpinned by stimulating green, inclusive economic growth opportunities. See more here in Cumbria’s Green Investment Report (pg 25).
Hydrogen also needs off-takers and Cumbria’s hydrogen strategy should include key “anchor” off-takers such as Sellafield, Innovia Films, BAE and the NHS et al, who are high emitters and are key holders of purchasing power, assets and employment locally. Green hydrogen facilities will also be able to complement the process of decarbonization and electrification in other hard to abate sectors such as lime and cement, heavy road transport, as well as have Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Morecambe Bay and nuclear co-generation.
Another potential off-taker, if the land is suitable for modern steel manufacturing, could be to develop a green steel manufacturing plant in Workington or its surrounds. Workington is where Henry Bessemer introduced a new steel manufacturing process which became the most important technique for making steel in the nineteenth century.
Beyond Cumbria, it is important to integrate with the North West’s low-carbon industrial cluster plan by 2030 and consider additional “anchor” investment projects such as HyNet North West’s (‘HyNet’) hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) infrastructure.
The North West boasts the largest concentration of advanced manufacturing and chemical producers in the UK and according to Net Zero North West, industrial consumers in the region emit nearly 17 million tonnes of carbon emission per year.
Substantial Historical Emissions
Thinking more about the coal’s end-use emissions of 9 million tonnes of C02e each year, this is as much as a country emits. In fact, it’s the same as Papua New Guinea emitted in 2016 and is a significant number of additional emissions every year and cumulatively until 2049, and after.
Then consider cumulatively the mine’s operational emissions of 0.4Mt CO2e per year which will also add to the area’s substantial historical emission debt.
At a guess, the area’s coal and steel emissions from days gone by – easily equal a high emitting country.
Methane is also an issue. While WCM will use a series of methane capture and elimination methods to reduce the mine’s methane emissions – the mine will cause 25 years of methane emissions to the atmosphere, initially entirely unmitigated and then there will be residual emissions as the methane capture system cannot capture 100% of the methane.
Further afield than Woodhouse Colliery itself, there is also the real and present danger of methane leakage from other abandoned mines in the area. Mines in Cumbria were known to be ‘gassy’ and their high concentration of methane has killed hundreds of miners. One example is the Wellington Pit disaster when 147 people died from a methane explosion.
Copeland’s Carbon Budget
The Tyndall Centre has produced a report setting out science-based carbon budgets for Copeland based on translating the “well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C” global temperature target into a national UK carbon budget. The report makes three key recommendations for Copeland: 1. Stay within a maximum cumulative carbon dioxide emissions budget of 3.1 million tonnes (MtCO2) for the period of 2018 to 2100. 2. Initiate an immediate programme of CO2 mitigation to deliver cuts in emissions averaging a minimum of -12.4% per year 3. Reach zero or near zero carbon no later than 2043.
Based on these numbers, it is worth noting that Woodhouse Colliery’s operational emissions would eat up Copeland’s carbon budget in 7.75 years.
Listen to Copeland’s People’s Panel on Climate Change Recommendations
In 2021, Copeland Council, Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) and other organisations supported a Copeland People’s Panel on Climate Change, which met ten times with thirty residents taking part. One key recommendation was that Copeland should become a centre for excellence for green jobs, skills, and training for both young people and adults. They also suggested a sustainable energy training hub and significant investment in renewable energy for Copeland including community ownership of energy generation wherever possible. All of these projects should also invest in local skills development and contribute to a community benefit fund.
Within the borough, there are ‘Two Copelands’ – the ‘haves and have nots’. High salaries for Sellafield workers, next to those with poorer standards of health and education, low incomes and benefits-dependency in pockets of deprivation. Copeland itself needs levelling up and it has perhaps more potential to prosper from net zero than many other parts of the UK, given its wealth of green assets.
Opportunities abound and they are there for the taking. Equally important is including the community to help shape a better route to economic prosperity. One that is anchored by industries of the future, rather than those of the past.
If you have any comments on this blog, please get in contact.
[Please note that Whitehaven is near where the mine will go. Whitehaven is currently a ward of Copeland Borough Council and is more broadly described in this blog as West Cumbria. Copeland will soon become part of Cumberland (as of April 2023 and before then will be a Cumberland Shadow Authority ). To add to any possible confusion – all of Cumbria used to be called Cumberland from the 12th century until 1974. Interestingly, the names ‘Cumberland’ and ‘Cumbria’ derive from ‘kombroges’ in Common Brittonic, which originally meant “compatriots”.]
This blog considers the multiple carbon opportunities of bracken including its potential as an alternative to peat, its carbon storage, its role as a feedstock for bioethanol and it being a marker of ancient woodlands.
This blog was originally published as a ‘gas’ for Green House Think Tank. Here.
“To place it in perspective as succinctly as possible, bracken is one hell of a plant”. I.A. Evans (1987)
I’d not considered bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) much until recently, beyond chasing my dog away from bouncing around in the stuff and thinking of it as fern’s less glamorous relation.
In writing this, I’ve been intrigued by the power of its ropey rhizomes, curious about its carbon saving opportunity and wondered about the old saying: ‘Copper under heather, silver under gorse, gold under bracken’. I also welcome your opinion, especially if you know about bracken’s brazenly brilliant ways.
The fossil records show that bracken has been a species of deciduous woodland for the last 55 million years. Its opportunistic biology is such, that its spread has happened both in response to deforestation and the way it can outcompete the growth of other plants – inhibiting seed germination. It is commonly found in woodland and upland areas and prefers acidic, well-drained soil. Its proliferation spreads via its underground rhizomes that run amok, ‘allelopathically’ (chemically interfering) with the growth of other plants, presenting a real threat to woodlands and biodiversity. It is also a ‘Pteridophyte’, reproducing by spores rather than seeds and it contains different poisonous agents such as cyanogen glycosides and carcinogens such as ptaquiloside.
Bracken currently covers some 1.6%[i] or ¬1.5 million hectares of Britain and it seems that whatever you do to control it, it grows back. A bit like a cockroach – fire does not kill it either. In fact, it makes it stronger. As a result, vast swathes of fells and heather moorland are being overwhelmed by its invasive grip. This is causing immense problems to land managers, livestock farmers, and foresters as it is smothering out other plants that are important to biodiversity, and, or good for cattle and sheep grazing.
Here in the Lake District, bracken covers about 6%[ii] or some 35,000 acres and from my window, it appears to cloak the fells everywhere with its winter die-back that has turned the landscape a coppery brown. Underneath though is new growth peeping through and its young fronds are getting ready to unfurl into a blanket of green.
Traditionally, bracken has had many uses – from animal bedding, compost, thatch, fuel and burnt bracken ash was often used in glass, soap making and dyes. Today, there are only a few commercial uses for bracken and the market has been relatively slow in seizing its potential.
This is likely due to the fact that harvesting and controlling bracken on steep slopes is extremely challenging, costly and time-consuming. Changes in land management practices mean that there are now fewer cattle and sheep in upland areas to trample it down. Other ways to control it include thwacking, cutting and rolling the bracken at least twice in the first year (in May/June and again in July/August) and the years following. There is also aerial spraying with Asulam (also known as Asulox) which is extremely toxic, as is glyphosate.
Carbon Saving Opportunities
What interests me the most though are the carbon saving opportunities. From replacing some of it with woodland – especially as bracken is a good indicator of former woodland, to its use as a second-generation feedstock for bioethanol and as an alternative to peat. However, despite all its promise, I’ve been surprised that there is not much literature on bracken’s carbon store and sequestration potential.
What is known is that the carbon stored in bracken in the top 15 cm of soil is relatively low when compared to other ecosystems and habitats. According to research done by the University of Cumbria and the Lake District National Park Authority (2013), bracken stores carbon in the top 15 cm of soil at ¬79 tonnes[iii] of carbon per hectare in the Lake District (55 t C ha-1 to 77.1 t C ha-1 under bracken, and 2 t C ha-1 in vegetation). This equals to ¬ 2.8 million tonnes of C02e for the park’s 6%[iv] share. For comparison, 84 million tonnes of CO2e are stored in the Lake District’s peat soils and 12.6 million tonnes of CO2e in its woodland.
To illustrate this point further, see the below table on carbon storage and sequestration by habitat from Natural England (2021). [v] However, Natural England doesn’t mention bracken specifically and doesn’t cite figures at all for the annual sequestration potential. Though given that carbon stored in the bracken itself is relatively low, it’s probably small-scale sequestration.
An Indicator of Deep and Fertile Soils for Woodlands
But what about carbon stored below 15 cm of soil? This could be important information as bracken is known to be an indicator of deep and fertile soils, which would mean bracken’s deeper soils would contain more carbon than is currently known. All of this needs to be researched to understand the carbon cost of leaving it in the ground as a land gobbling monoculture or removing it for more commercial net zero opportunities or tree planting.
Guy Shrubsole from the Lost Rainforest of Britain project also sees our bracken ‘problem’ as an opportunity and he thinks bracken may be telling us something important about how we use our land, and how we should be sparing more of it for nature. Far from being a harbinger of doom, he sees bracken as being a good guide as to where to let native woodland return. In other words, bracken offers us ‘guidance’ to put ‘the right tree in the right place’. The guidance that should be used when deciding where to plant trees as part of the government’s commitment to increase woodland creation across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025.
Interestingly, Guy Shrubsole cites the ecologist Ian Rotherham, who thinks bracken is a sign of lost woods – ‘ghost woods’ or ‘shadow woods’ – that show us not only where woodland once existed, but it is possible these old woods don’t entirely disappear. Indeed, some bracken stands may contain old woodland seedbanks that are lying in wait to spring back into life. Breaking up bracken and generating wood pastures/ savannah-type environments could perhaps help these old seedbanks rejuvenate.
Trees are one the few plant groups that can reduce bracken’s domination and in general, turning bracken into woodland can be done through a mix of planting, natural regeneration and reintroducing disturbance, say with pigs/ wild boar, to break up bracken stands and allow seedbanks to rejuvenate and prepare the ground for saplings.
Advanced Cellulosic Biofuels Possibilities for Sustainable Transport and Aviation Biofuel
While planting more woodlands is of course a good solution, bracken’s quickest planetary saving potential lies in it being a feedstock for bioethanol and maximising the production of its C5 and C6 sugars (and therefore its yield of bioethanol). This can be done through fermentation, distillation, and other technological processes such as gasification, pyrolysis, enzymes, (to name some). All of which are competing for prominence but also add a fair whack to increasing the capital cost of production.
Tech and money issues aside, one outstanding advantage in using bracken for bioethanol is that it neither competes directly with food production, nor indirectly for land use, and thus it avoids the “food and energy” dilemma.
It is encouraging to see that a commercial biomass to biofuel facility is being built in Nottingham which, once completed, will enable the technology to be rolled out across the UK. But it is a beast of a machine that will require an annual supply of 40,000 tonnes of feedstock. Where an average bracken yield is ¬30 tonnes per hectare, this requires harvesting areas of up to 1,500 hectares to run one unit.[vi]
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO), biofuel demand is expected to increase by nearly 1.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (mboe/d) by 2030 as highlighted in the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS). [vii] In September last year, the UK mandated the introduction of E10 fuel which contains up to 10% of sustainable bioethanol and the Climate Change Committee’s Land Use Report (2020) recommends expanding the planting of UK energy crops to around 23,000 hectares each year to meet net zero by 2050.
The Transport Opportunity
Bioethanol prices are linked to the price of oil and the resurgence in oil prices coupled with the expansion of the use of biofuels in the heavy transport and aviation sectors are driving price increases for ethanol and for Road Transport Fuel Certificates (RTFCs), making them more economically viable. Last year, the UK Department of Transport added bracken to the UK Road Transport Fuel Obligation list of acceptable feedstocks, both as a lignocellulosic material and as a waste material given its invasive nature.[viii] Meaning every litre of biofuel produced from bracken will qualify for double Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates.
Given the double ‘weighting’, could it be that bracken, the bane of many hill and upland farmers, might be able to reap a positive reward as an advanced biofuel that could be used for aviation and heavy transport?
With the new biofuel certificate values, biofuel projects using bracken as a feedstock could be a promising option for the UK as it ticks several boxes in offering farmers an option to control the spread of bracken, earn an income from unproductive land, reduce the risk of fire while enabling emissions to be reduced.
Bracken has been used as a biofuel for centuries, probably due to its low moisture content and its high calorific value that when cut and dried is 21 GJ/t (Callaghan et al., 1981), compared to 19 GJ/t for straw (Christian and Riche, 1999).[ix]
An Alternative to Peat
Mixed with sheep’s wool, it can also be an effective peat-free potting compost good for fruiting and flowering. Sheep’s wool replaces the peat element by increasing water retention and acting as a source of slow-release nitrogen. Bracken, being ericaceous, is also one of the few viable substitutes that can be used instead of peat to grow plants, such as rhododendrons, camellias or blueberries. Several companies commercially produce ‘wool and bracken’ composts – not only is this a sustainable, environmentally friendly, peat-free alternative, but it can help the wool market as it continues to decline.
Another use is that bracken has been used to produce biomass pellets which when converted into “brackettes”, claimed to burn longer and more fiercely than oak and they sold for around £6.99 for 10 kilos.[x] But, Brackenburn the company that processed the brackettes, has since ceased trading. Why this company didn’t progress is not known, it simply could be that the company didn’t factor in all the costs for harvesting the bracken. If there is potential to commercialise bracken biomass pellets, could bracken pellets also be burnt in UK power stations instead of having to import them? In 2018, 7.8 million tonnes of wood pellets were imported to the UK and 82% of these wood pellets imported were from the United States and Canada. Importing such a vast amount does not equal a sustainable use of biomass given all the emissions associated with its transportation or potential impacts on land use in cutting up the wood. [xi]
But that is not all. There are also certain molecules in bracken such as Pterosin A, which can be used in biopharmaceuticals to help diabetes, obesity and osteoarthritis. Plus, bracken stem fibre can be used in building materials.
Clearly, this dizzying array of opportunities should be researched more. But for any of these to succeed in helping to save the planet (as it were), emissions saved by their new use must outweigh any potential carbon service provided by keeping it in the ground. To better understand this, it would be good to see some detailed life cycle assessment (LCA) done that focuses on energy and GHGs balances, including bracken’s carbon storage and sequestration below 15 cm of soil.
There also needs to be greater policy incentives that foster commercialisation. Without such support, there is a real risk that bracken will continue to run amok and many of the technologies that could turn bracken into a carbon saving will not be developed properly as they are just too expensive and this would be a missed carbon opportunity.
Some Research References
Carbon Storage and Sequestration by Habitat, Natural England (2021).
Managing Land for Carbon: a Guide for Farmers, Land Managers and Advisors. Lake District National Park, University of Cumbria (2013).
Biomass in a Low Carbon Economy, the Climate Change Committee (2018).
[xi] Another interesting project is a biomass biochar project in Ireland that will convert waste farm biomass, such as reeds and bracken and it will be interesting to see if this project can be commercialised at scale.
By Nick Robins, professor in practice for sustainable finance at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute, and Ciara Shannon, director of EdenWorks.
Cumbria is a county with a strong industrial heritage and unrivalled natural assets. But it has also attracted international notoriety for the county council’s decision to approve plans to open the new Woodhouse Colliery. The decision is widely seen to be wholly incompatible with the UK’s climate objectives: the Climate Change Committee (CCC) states that “a new coking coal mine in Cumbria will increase global emissions and have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets”. More than this, the colliery risks becoming a stranded asset, as the use of coking coal in steelmaking could be displaced completely by 2035, according to the CCC. This means that any economic benefits in terms of regional revitalisation and jobs would be fragile and short lived.
A better route to economic prosperity after Covid-19 is urgently needed, one that is anchored in the industries of the future, rather than those of the past. Cumbria County Council’s recent decision to review the plans for the colliery is a welcome step and presents a perfect opportunity to change course and throw its weight behind a robust green recovery plan.
Drawing on the county’s human potential and striking natural endowment, a green recovery plan could be built around four key pillars:
1. Cumbria’s rich potential for green economic development The first pillar focuses on harnessing Cumbria’s unique green assets for the national effort to build a resilient, net zero economy by 2050. Here, the county has two core strengths: its renewable energy resources and its rural landscape. Historically, Cumbria’s ‘energy coast’ focused first on coal then on nuclear; now it is moving rapidly into the renewable era. The Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm, located 15km west of Barrow-in-Furness, is one of the world’s largest, and the area hosts over a fifth of the UK’s wind farm generation capacity.
Cumbria also has a ‘first of its kind’ £12.7m hydrogen research facility currently being built and this will investigate how existing transmission assets could supply hydrogen to heat homes and deliver green energy to industry. Add to this the Cumbrian coast has one of the UK’s highest tidal ranges, with plans to develop a variety of tidal lagoons are being mooted, as well as an ‘electric bridge’ across the Solway Firth. Inland are many of the UK’s fastest flowing waterways with more than half of the north west’s potential for small scale hydropower generation. Community owned energy also offers a route for connecting renewables with local empowerment.
What is missing, however, is a clear strategy to seize all this clean energy potential in ways that can provide high quality local jobs and supply chains.
Alongside renewable energy, Cumbria could also become one of the country’s hubs for nature-based solutions. The county is the one of the most rural places in England, with rich agricultural resources and landscapes that attract almost 50 million visitors a year. With the UK’s departure from the EU, the reshaping of agricultural subsidies holds out the potential for new business models built around enhancing natural capital, not least through carbon storage. One priority could be to improve the management of peatland in the Lake District, which holds about 23 million tonnes of carbon. Cumbria is also one of five pilot areas trialing the development of the Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS) and this could be the starting point for kick-starting business and financing models attracting new investment into nature restoration. This will also be critical to strengthen resilience to the physical impacts of climate change.
2. Economic renewal through local net zero plans This pillar would focus on the development of local net zero plans to drive economic renewal, not least for the housing sector and transport system. The county’s economic strategy already highlights the construction sector as a strength, supporting 14,000 jobs and involving over 800 small businesses. This sector will provide the foundation for retrofitting every building in the county that needs it, to be energy efficient, net zero and resilient to flooding.
There is also the option in some areas to include large scale district heating networks, along with area-based retrofits focusing on entire streets and communities. Here, a special focus on social housing and low income households presents the prospect of a triple dividend: lower energy bills, better health and reduced pollution.
Transport infrastructure will also need rethinking to deliver zero emission connectivity across this rural region, rolling out electric vehicle infrastructure as well as expanding public transport and rail links. Taking an active approach to the net zero transition could also be the basis to realise Cumbria’s ambitions in advanced manufacturing across the industrial, transport, built environment and nature-based solution sectors. A new report by Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) will shortly set out the county’s green jobs potential.
3. Community participation in plans The third pillar of the strategy should focus on the vital role of citizen engagement across Cumbria in the design and delivery of plans. A striking conclusion of the UK’s Citizen Assembly last year was the need for climate action to be fair, in terms of people’s jobs, families and communities. Too often in the past, economic transitions have been something done to the people rather than shaped by them. New approaches to citizen involvement are needed: Kendal has already set up a climate change citizens’ jury.
To be successful, the plans to reach net zero have to be rooted in community participation across the county, particularly by those whose lives and livelihoods have been hit hardest by the pandemic. This is not only the right thing to do, but it generates greater levels of innovation and ambition, as local people are put in the driving seat. A number of cities and regions are setting up broad-based ‘climate commissions’, to drive this process, for example in Yorkshire and Humber across the Pennines. With nearly 70 organisations spanning the public, private and third sectors, the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership will be an important driver in developing this shared sense of the way forward, with the overarching goal of achieving net zero by 2037.
4. Investment to make it happen The fourth and final pillar is to mobilise private and public investment. A ‘wall of money’ is building up from UK investors and banks committed to net zero and many are now supporting climate action through a just transition. The challenge is the absence of a pipeline of bankable projects that not only deliver financial returns, but also generate real benefits for local communities.
Here, Cumbria, like every part of the country, needs to work out how to access the new UK Infrastructure Bank whose missions will be to tackle climate change and support regional development. Importantly, this also means drawing on local finance: one estimate suggests there is around £4 billion of investable wealth per 100,000 people in the UK, which means that for the 500,000 in Cumbria there could be around £20 billion. Currently, there are very few mechanisms to enable people to channel their savings and pensions into investments that deliver returns and support the local economy. Recently, local authorities in Warrington and West Berkshire have issued Community Municipal Investments to tap a growing demand from savers. The same could be done in Cumbria.
Of course, making this course correction will not be easy. Yet Cumbria has perhaps more potential to prosper from a just transition to net zero than many other parts of the UK, given its wealth of green assets. Drawing up a green recovery plan in 2021, based on these four pillars, could set the county on its way.
With thanks to Green Alliance‘s Inside Track for posting this article originally.
This blog follows on from an earlier one, the Glare of the Glasgow Gavel, I wrote in November 2019. One year and a bit later, how galvanised are we? Progress But Much More Needed – Time to Gallop
Five years on from world leaders agreeing on the Paris Agreement, it was encouraging to hear from some 75 nations speaking virtually at the Climate Ambition Summit, co-hosted by the UK, France and the UN, in partnership with Italy and Chile on December 12th, 2020.
Let’s begin with those nations, not at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 – a number of big emitters such as Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico, were not invited to take part, as their climate actions were not ambitious enough.
Compared to previous years, nations spoke for 2 minutes or so by recorded video and this format worked well. Compared to other years – more world leaders clearly knew their stuff, beyond trotting out the perfunctory.
New was that 12 leaders highlighted their plans to increase the use of nature-based solutions to combat climate change. However, there was only 45 new and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to speak of, 24 net-zero emissions commitments, and 20 new adaptation and resilience plans.
Meanwhile, greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions continue to rise, the impacts continue to starkly stack up and the world is heading to 2.9°C, according to estimates by the Climate Action Tracker.
Even though this is progress from 2015, when we were heading for a 3.5°C (plus) temperature rise – we are still not moving fast enough and much more action and money are needed.
According to the OECD, we are still US$21 billion (based on 2018 numbers) short of the 2020 goal of mobilising US$100 billion in public finance. However, there is a lag in reporting data and the most recent amount will not be known until 2021, but it is expected now to be less than US$10 billion short). But what remains worrying is that adaptation finance is lower than mitigation and represents only 21% of climate finance flows (2018 figures).
UN Secretary-General António Guterres criticised developed countries for spending 50% or more on their pandemic recovery funds on fossil fuels rather than on low-carbon energy. “We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet,” he said. He then urged nations to declare a climate emergency and this will be the central objective for the UN in 2021.
With Covid still being rampant, it was remiss that few leaders spoke of the opportunity of the green recovery and to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic. Boris Johnson was one of the few who articulated this and did so well – outlining the merits of using scientific advances to not only recover from the pandemic but also to protect the planet and biosphere while creating millions of high-skilled jobs. He also spoke of the new UK emissions reduction target of at least 68% by 2030 from 1990 levels and detailed aspects of the UK’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
But, I thought it a missed opportunity that he didn’t use his ‘top’ slot to mobilise more on the global agenda of the UK’s COP26 Presidency to frame the whole event (and wished someone would buy him a hairbrush). Presumably, outlining the agenda was the job of Alok Sharma the COP26 President, who did unfurl it eventually – right at the end (scroll down).
It’s been and was a long time in coming.
Most memorable for me was Hon. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados who gave a powerful speech that had at its core the mantra “1.5 to stay alive” – vital for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) (and pointing out that getting 1.5°C into the text was, pretty much down to their great work and was a major win during the Paris negotiations).
She mentioned that some of their mitigation resources had gone into fighting Covid and said that unless the climate crisis is addressed, there will be no ‘build back better’ for SIDS and numerous nations will be robbed of their future. She said she wanted to believe that major emitters were not capable of, what in essence would be, climate genocide and said she wanted to believe that SIDS were visible and indispensable.
President Xi Jinping outlined a range of new targets for 2030 including an increase to 25% “non-fossil” energy by 2030. This includes an increase in solar and wind installation to about 1200GW by 2030 from 460GW, so that will be a new 740GW over the next ten years. This and other measures should ensure peak emission between 2026 – 2030. Xi also confirmed plans to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 and this is hugely significant top-down climate goal that will drive the climate system (but it is not yet good enough for a 1.5° C trajectory by 2050). Noting also, that all of this is still to be agreed in their 14th Five-Year Plan.
There was no mention specifically of coal reduction, domestically or on greening plans for the ‘mighty and GHG scary’ Belt and Road. By way of background, according to Li Shuo of Greenpeace – getting to their 2030 targets has not all been plain sailing, “challenging politics – powerful and provincial industrial push back, rock bottom US-China relations and a lack of ambition from non-European major emitters,” he wrote.
The EU confirmed their 2030 pledge to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 on 1990 levels, and it should added that getting to this included a bit of a battle with Poland and others to agree on. While encouraging, it is below what the science tells us is needed – ie. at least a 65% emission cut by 2030.
Beyond the EU members, outstanding leadership, in my mind, came from Sweden and their Net-Zero by 2045 pledge and their pioneering work in tackling harder to abate sectors such as steel and cement. In the autumn, Hybrit the first pilot fossil-free steel project was launched and they also plan for fossil-free cement by 2030. In addition, there has been a big investment by Swedish mining LKAB of an additional €40 billion to reduce emissions by 35 million tonnes per year.
Then over to Iceland who is doing a lot in carbon removal and this will be a key factor to them reaching carbon neutrality. How they will do their carbon removal is something we should all watch.
Quite a few climate tweeters quickly celebrated Pakistan’s commitment to no new coal-fired power generation. They have already scrapped two proposed coal power projects recently – replacing them with hydroelectricity. This is good news as until 2016 Pakistan had just one coal-fired power plant, but by 2020, coal had surged to 57% of its energy mix. I think it is true to say that coal increased in Pakistan because of Beijing’s investment, as part of the Belt and Road Intiative (BRI).
Which brings us back to the mighty and GHG scary BRI and the importance of its green plans.
India announced its target of 450GW installed capacity of renewable energy by 2030 – while this is positive – it was nothing new to what was already known, nor was there mention on reducing coal production. However, I was interested by his mention of their International Solar Alliance (ISA), which I’ve long been following, and it was good to learn that India will leverage ISA to help with solar expertise to 47 least developed and small island countries. Another thing to watch.
Just before the summit, many people were buoyed that the UK Government will end financing and support for overseas fossil fuel projects – about £21bn of such UK funding has been provided in the last four years. Congratulations to Cafod and those who have long campaigned for this. France and Sweden also set out plans to end international financial support for fossil fuels, and Canada announced it will increase its price on carbon to C$170 per tonne by 2030.
2021 will be critical to show that finance is flowing to meet and surpass the US$100 billion goal. So it was also encouraging (but not good enough) that several countries and financial institutions made new climate finance-related pledges, including the UK, which pledged to double its climate finance contribution to US$15.5 billion over the next five years.
Angela Merkel spoke (without details) of contributing to Post 2020 climate financing and of #Germany’s (just under) €5 billion in international climate financing – double the amount from 2014.
Plus, the European Investment Bank’s goal of 50% of investments going toward the climate and environment sectors by 2025 was welcome. But overall, multilateral development banks (MDBs) have not yet shown much climate ambition (despite announcing in 2017) they would align their finances with the Paris Agreement.
Then there is the worrying data from Oil Change International’s Shift the Subsidies that shows that the World Bank has spent at least US$1 billion in funding new fossil fuel projects during the pandemic recovery.
At some point, it would have been good to hear of progress on the stickier issues not agreed at COP25 around the ‘Paris Rulebook’ such as Article 6 and carbon markets.
At the end of the summit, Alok Sharma COP 26 President-designate said: “[People] will ask ‘Have we done enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5°C and protect people and nature from the effects of climate change?’ We must be honest with ourselves – the answer to that is currently no.”
He then outlined four key goals for the global climate agenda: a “step change” in mitigation by aligning every NDC with a 1.5°C degree pathway; strengthened adaptation, including by addressing loss and damage; increased flows of climate finance; and enhanced international collaboration. You can read his speech here. Plus, also follow John Murton (UK’s COP26 Envoy) and the like who are working around the clock on COP26, yet candidly recognise more needs to be done.
Despite this, what remains striking is the fact there are still ~120 countries/ 60% more to submit their enhanced NDC’s. The looming deadline for this being December 31.
While it is understandable that Covid-19 may have stymied efforts – why are there so many laggards, even though the urgency of addressing climate change has never been clearer? Is it down to a lack of political will, funds or a lack of capacity and technical expertise? Or they’ll simply respond to the December 31st deadline at the last minute? Most likely it’s all the above.
If it is a technical issue, and as this is an emergency why doesn’t the UK, China, USA and others loan out some of their climate experts for a few months? Think a Climate RedR – and create a portal to share experts to technically assist others in enhanced climate plans and economists to help determine right capital investments needed. Of course, I realise this is all competitive stuff – but equally at these earlier stages, less so. Plus, the UK has a great number of climate experts and China a large number of engineers etc.
Yes, there is still much more to do – but gratitude goes to the 75 or so ‘nation’ climate horsemen and thumbs up to the progressive leadership of a few. Glasgow’s glare is indeed galvanising the Paris Agreement’s ratchet mechanism (albeit in need of a fast-acting lubricant).
Now with the COP26 agenda set, the UK must whip up its diplomatic efforts into a gallop and perhaps turn its glare to a charming scowl to get more leaders to dive deeper and the money flowing.
At this critical time, nations must not be pairing back their climate policies to respond to the pandemic – but rather see the green recovery as a way to support the pandemic, boost their economies and embrace all the opportunities that will come.
The UK must shout from the rooftops that emissions can be lowered through green recovery packages, and if this happened, according to UNEP, emissions could fall by just over 25% by 2030.
All said, my biggest hope (like at most COPs) on Saturday came from listening to progress from non-state actors in the #RacetoZero and to learn of the new #RacetoResilience. (Details for another blog)
[On Saturday, it was also a joy to remember that historic day five years back – sitting outside a cafe in Paris, glued to my phone. When the gavel went down, I remember jumping up in the most unchic way – calling out to waiters – anyone passing by, to listen in. “Bien sûr!” they said, quickly moving on as if the Paris Agreement was the most normal, easiest thing in the world. Congratulations to all of its architects].
Notes on Cumbria County Council’s (CCC) October 2,2020 Meeting. Application 4/17/9007 – West Cumbria Mining(WCM) – Woodhouse Colliery
By Ciara Shannon
Having sat, sighed and scratched my head through this 7 hour virtual meeting, it is hard to understand why Woodhouse Colliery was approved, when West Cumbria is in a unique position to do something great with its vast renewable energy potential and is well positioned to seize upon the thousands of green job and investment opportunities that will come with building back greener and better.
Instead, 12 councillors (cross party) approved UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years mainly because of the 500 promised jobs and the potential of the coking coal becoming a new export opportunity for the UK and for an area in need of regeneration.
West Cumbria Mining (WCM) is hoping to export about £2.5 billion worth of coal in the first 10 years. Coke – the market and atmosphere doesn’t need and flies in the face of the UK’s net zero commitment.
Notes on the October 2 CCC Meeting– Woodhouse Colliery – Approved (Again)
12 committee members voted in favour of granting planning permission to Woodhouse Colliery, three were against including the Chair and the Vice-Chair, two abstained, and one was unable to vote. This was slight progress from last year’s unanimous approval.
While disappointing, the meeting was well chaired virtually by Geoff Cook and Paul Haggin did a good job, overall, in outlining different viewpoints on a complex topic. There were also public presentations from experts, locals and officials.
As an aside, I was a bit disheartened that there was only two female councillors and the average age of the committee was far older than expected. Councillor Nick Cotton tipped the average age downwards and asked good questions, but he didn’t vote against the project which surprised me. I am not mentioning this in an ageist or in a disrespectful way, but, it struck me that coal mining ‘back in the day’ thinking and a knowledge of fossil fuel businesses prevailed across the committee. This is understandable to an extent, as how many people really know much about alternatives to coking coal and decarbonising steel? It is challenging, difficult and complex. However, an overall lack of green expertise got my alarm bells ringing.
The question about the need for steel was not in dispute by either side, on the whole. But, I was concerned that councillors didn’t give more consideration to weighing up the project against new types of green jobs, decarbonising steel business models and the timelines of the scaleability of these greener technologies, processes and industrial innovations. (See some info in ‘Charlie’ post)
Perhaps telling was that very few councillors mentioned low carbon anything. Never mind the vital importance of net zero, nor the exciting opportunity of Cumbria taking the lead in showing the way. Plus, the bonanza bonus of thousands of new green jobs that Cumbria could reap – jobs that are already being created across the UK.
So why then did the Council think they had to choose 500 (or so) dirty jobs over no jobs at all? Where did the idea of no jobs come from?
It is now over to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to decide whether to call in the decision and make the final decision himself.
This is not the first time this controversial project has gone to his office, nor the first time the Council has approved the project. And likely, not the last.
Those opposing the plan mentioned the loss of ancient woodland, heritage issues, the impacts of climate change to Cumbria (sea-level rise and flooding) (and globally), a dangerous amount of additional greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, over supply of the metallurgical coal market, climate and technology timelines and possible seismic impacts.
Those that approved the project, said that it would bring significant local benefits to Whitehaven, Copeland and Cumbria in jobs and investment, at a critical time. The project would be a new and large export opportunity for the UK and it will be beneficial to the EU and UK steel sector. Key supporters include Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, Workington MP Mark Jenkinson, Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie and Allerdale Deputy Leader Mike Johnson.
The meeting happened following legal challenges after the Council approved the project in March 2019. The purpose of this meeting was to approve the CCC’s written recommendation that the project be approved, while considering planning conditions and the issues to resolve – all 101 of them. With one being to include a legally binding greenhouse gas (GHG) assessment commitment as part of the Section 106 agreement.
This is a first for such a project, alongside a production end date of no later than 2049 to recognise the transition to a net zero carbon economy. (Thought to self: 2049 – are you kidding me?)
One positive outcome of the meeting, was a recognition by the Council that WCM must consider indirect emissions – not just the emissions associated to the operation of the mine (as WCM & AECOM had before stated).
This bit of news that (Scope 2 & 3) indirect emissions will be considered as part of their (legally binding – section 106) GHG assessment was welcome news, as they weren’t being considered previously. This includes considering their customers’ processing and use of the products they sell. * Thanks go to Dr Henry Adams for his work on this.
If WCM goes ahead, the site work will start early next year (before spring 2021), with initial coal production starting ¬18-months from the start of construction. So, let’s say a start date of 2023 to 2049 (26 years) of 9 million tonnes of C02e each year = that’s equal to a huge 234 million tonnes of CO2e.
By 2049, presumably means it can keep producing until a few minutes before midnight to 2050 – the year we need be at Net Zero? But even before then – let me say it again – that’s 9 million tonnes of C02e every year, multiplied by 26 years or so.
Quite early on in the meeting, emissions, climate timelines and decarbonising technology timelines were discussed by Dr Henry Adams who strongly objected to permission being granted. You can read more details here.
Maggie Mason on behalf of South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) highlighted why “end-use” emissions did have to be considered, and why this meant that the proposal was contrary to planning policy and should be refused. See a link here.
I waited eagerly to hear about the substitution point which was key to the approval. And hoped for a clear explanation about the Council’s continued insistence that WCM’s coking coal will be a ‘benefit’ as it will substitute those of similar operations in the USA – resulting in CO2 savings from a shorter shipping route. The USA being the UK’s lead supplier of coking coal, followed by Russia and then Australia.
But, this point was not discussed in detail by councillors – instead it was substituted by waffle.
That said, it was good to hear Prof Paul Ekins expert advice on this mentioned a few times. With him quoted as saying that the proposed coal mine is in no way a substitution, as it will result in considerable additional global carbon emissions. Plus, an increase in metallurgical coal in the market will reduce the costs of it and thereby the incentive to develop and deploy low-carbon steel technologies.
Councillor Alan McGuckin was the only councillor to mention the substitution point when he summed up his voting rationale. Saying he supported the steel industry, but voted against the proposal as the coal mine was not needed. He also said if it doesn’t substitute for the import of coking coal from the US – it is “a disaster environmentally”.
Overall, there was a lack of clarity on the level of sulphur (capped it would seem a few minutes before the meeting to 1.6% (as changes had been made to the notes – as they said themselves). One councillor did ask a specific question about how much would the WCM High Volatility A (High Vol A/HVA) coking coal supply/replace for the UK. The Officers answered that elements of coking coal are complex, and it will depend on the “specification”.
Maggie Mason had mentioned this point in her presentation, and quoted the Officers report that admitted that WCM coal, even as restricted by a planning condition will likely have too much sulphur in it for British Steel to use as HVA coal. Therefore, it will not substitute for 100% of the equivalent coal from the US.
Surely given WCM’s expected high sulphur content and likely market sell issues, this should be leading to further questions about the viability of WCM’s business model? And that WCM’s coking coal seems not at all to be a substitute for the stuff in the US – what on earth is going on? (I am now really scratching my head).
Finally, towards the end of the meeting it was Mark Kirkbride’s turn to speak. As CEO of WCM he spoke confidently (as you’d expect) and by way of justifying the project, he mentioned at the start that the UK was in a deep recession – which was particularly stark in Cumbria. He was asked how certain was he that jobs will go to local people and while this was not answered, he did say that WCM will deliver over 1% of the UK’s trade deficit.
He said the project was ready to start and they were in the process of closing the funding. He stressed payback would be 5 years and not a penny of taxpayers money would be involved.
He also spoke about substitution, but at this point I was swapping my coffee for coke (Diet). In fact, I could have kept exchanging my coke ad infinitum. With a smoke screen in front of it.
“Of course it won’t be a stranded asset!”
Then (rather indignantly), Mr Kirkbride said the project wouldn’t become a stranded asset as the UK currently imports 5 million tonnes (I need to check this) of metallurgical coal per year, the EU is the second largest market globally and the market for metallurgical coal would remain consistent for at least 30 years or so.
He also said hydrogen was a distant ambition and mentioned briefly carbon capture and storage (CCS). When asked about methane, he said that the underground methane will be piped and bought to the surface and they were looking at a bulk air capture system.
Tim Farron MP gave a rousing presentation saying amendments made by WCM have been done because of the threat of legal issues and a judicial review. He also said that WCM’s claims that the mine will not make emissions any worse – are obviously false and WCM knows it. He then mentioned that Woodhouse Colliery undermines the Council’s own efforts for a Net Zero Cumbria and that Councillors must consider the strength of Cumbria’s natural resources and its vast renewable energy potential.
Another public representation that got my attention was from Dr Tim Jones who mentioned that the coalfield is heavily faulted. This means there is real potential for subsidence to occur as a result of the “mass removal” and creation of extensive sub-sea void spaces which could generate earthquake effects, which may extend onshore as far as the Sellafield/Moorside sites. Apparently, Sellafield have said they don’t have an objection to the project as there will only will be ‘some’ subsidence. But how much is ‘some’?
A further point of interest – was back in 2015, Cumbria County Council’s Planning Officers gave the go ahead for WCM to carry out “exploratory borehole drilling” onshore and offshore in the St Bees area. Apparently, WCM have already spent £12 million drilling bore holes and they have collected 4000 metres of drill core sample. In the process, WCM hit at least one methane gas pocket, one nautical mile from St Bees.
Councillor Hillary Carrick summed up the meeting well when she said she found aspects of the project misleading and that any project that has 101 issues to resolve – is of concern.
I couldn’t agree more. Many councillors said themselves that parts of the project were very complicated (and they are) and required specialist expertise in a number of areas (it does). One even said he wasn’t elected to do global issues but was elected for Cumbria. Another doubted the climate science (sigh), and then mentioned the UK needs its own steel security (a good point). Plus, the Mayor of Copeland quite angrily said that the people who were concerned about the project didn’t live in the area – the people in Copeland support the project.
But do they – has anyone else asked them?
When the Officer was asked if they had double checked the emission figures, the reply was they took a simple view and compared WCM to that of American mines. How is this proper due diligence?
Why hasn’t Cumbria Council got a climate person to help build knowledge internally and externally – as so many other Councils now have? Or perhaps as this is a global issue, why not create a different type of decision making structure for big decisions such as this that includes a cross-section of experts?
Following the meeting and to quote Jon Owen, Environment Committee Chair, Kendal Town Council. Lib Dem: “500,000 people live in Cumbria. Thousands of them put efforts in to reduce their carbon footprint, by flying & driving less, eating less meat, by recycling, by considering food miles. It feels like all that effort is wasted when 12 councillors can triple the county’s emissions.”
Jon also said that we know from the British Social Attitude survey, that older people, on average, are less concerned about climate change. Only 20% of those aged 65+ are either very or extremely worried about climate change – compared to 32% of those aged 18-34.
Can I strongly suggest that as climate change isan intergenerational and a deeply serious thing – that Charlie, Taylor and Sam from Workington (see ‘Charlie’ post) – talk to their parents/grandparents. And also think hard about the councillors you vote for next May.
Welcome to Whitehaven: Twinned with Papua New Guinea’s Emissions+ A Larger Other
But folks hold on to your hat. There’s more.
When I think more about the 9 million tonnes of C02e each year – this is as big as a country emits. In fact, it’s the same as Papua New Guinea emits every year and is equal to 0.03% of the global share of emissions. I also note, that about 87% of WCM’s coking coal will be exported to the EU and 13% of its coal will likely be used for steel making in the UK.
Be they WCM’s own emissions or their customers’ emissions in the EU or UK – it’s a massive number of additional emissions for the UK every year and cumulatively until 2049 to take on. Emissions that will guzzle up Cumbria’s share of the global carbon budget ( of about 23 million tonnes) very quickly.
Frankly, the substitution point and the Council justifying the project based on CO2 savings from a shorter shipping route from the USA – is misguided, at the very least.
As the Race to Zero heats up (& it already is – globally, nationally, regionally and locally) and competition intensifies – you can almost see the sign as you enter Whitehaven: “Twinned with Papua New Guinea’s Emissions” – or some such.
Far worse than this, WCM’s emissions will increase the areas already substantial cumulative, historical emissions. Coal mining there first goes back to the 13th century when the Monks at St Bees exploited the local coal seams. Then in the 1840s, the area was a hotspot for both coal and steel. From 1914 until 1986, it was also home to Haig Colliery that stretched 4.5 miles out under the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea and ¬48 million tonnes of coking coal were extracted.
Add to this methane and the real and present danger of methane leakage from the abandoned mines in the area, which is likely to be substantial as the mines in Cumbria were known to be ‘gassy’ (lethally so). The worst mines for methane leakage are deep mines with older seams.
At a guess, historical, cumulative emissions would easily equal a high emitting country.
Now add that country’s name next to Papua New Guinea’s..
I don’t know about you, I am not sitting comfortably at all.
(Part of this blog is also on the South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) website as I am a SLACC member. See here. That said, I am objecting to the WCM in an independent capacity, working on the business case against it and collaborating with others).
Notes on Scope 3 Value Chain
The 9 million CO2e per year number considers indirect end-use emissions, also known as Scope 2 & 3 (indirect) Value Chain emissions as labelled in the GHG Protocol. While approaches to addressing Scope 3 Value Chain emissions are evolving across sectors, it is encouraging to see BHP is thinking about this for their metallurgical coal. See BHP’s work on that here.
About 87% of WCM’s coking coal will be exported to the EU and 13% of its coal likely used in the UK. This means on paper when registering their emissions – WCM’s EU related emissions will go into an “export category” in their ‘end-user’ breakdown and will be excluded in their UK total count. However, emissions are still emissions – regardless of the bucket/ country, they get counted in.
Notes on Oct 2 Meeting
Here is the agenda and notes for the CCC Oct 2 decision meeting
Councillors in favour: 6x Cons: Bowness, English, Hitchin, Markley, Turner, Wilson and 3x Lab= Cassidy, McEwan, Morgan and 2x Lib Dems: Cotton, Gray and 1x Independent: Holliday
Against: Cook (LD), McGuckin (Lab), Carrick (Cons) Abstain: Bingham (Cons), M. Wilson (Lab)
Some Press Coverage of the Oct 2 Decision
The Council felt they had to choose dirty jobs over no jobs at all – Telegraph (Oct 2)
I’ve been to Whitehaven and Workington a few times now. They are about 8 miles apart and both are former mining towns in West Cumbria.
Initially, I was interested in the area having heard about the ‘Workington Man’ during the 2019 general election, but more recently in following the twists and turns of the £160m proposed metallurgical coal mine near Whitehaven – Woodhouse Colliery.
And, I was wryly amused that their design looks a bit like a cousin of the Eden Project – gone over to the dark-side.
Meet Charlie in Workington
According to the stereotype during the 2019 general election, the Workington ‘man’ is about 45 years old – a leaver, ex-Labour who more recently has voted Conservative.
Let’s call them Charlie (he/she) and Charlie’s family would have been involved in coal mining one way or another, as there has been coal mining in Workington for over 400 years.
In the 1840s, the town became a coal mining powerhouse and steelworks flourished from the 1870s. Workington then became one of the most important sites for UK steel production, until being decommissioned in the 1980s.
Following the loss of coal and steel on which it thrived, the whole area then faced crippling unemployment. The area has since changed as many miners left to find work elsewhere, retired or have long gone. Those that stayed are tight-knit, proud of their roots and deeply patriotic.
Today, many of them are employed in the nuclear industry in Sellafield or in other industries such as chemicals, cardboard, the docks, waste management and recycling old computers for export.
I’d say Charlie probably knows that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change and that clean energy is the future. But, they could be concerned about what skills they’d offer a green, ‘build back better’ economy and are worried about job security as Sellafield is no longer employing so many people.
Like most Cumbrians, they might have a deep awe of nature. On a weekend, they’ll walk on the fells or along the West Cumbrian coast where they see the vast array of offshore wind farms.
They might also know that Cumbria has one of the UK’s highest tidal ranges with significant potential for energy generation. Plus, with so much peat, rain and fast flowing rivers here – there’s plenty of scope for peatland restoration and hydro.
Younger than Charlie is Taylor (a Millenial) with many years of work ahead of them and they might have young kids at home. Younger still is ‘Gen Z’ Sam.
Both are far more environmentally conscious than Charlie, most likely concerned about climate change and interested and aware of the opportunities of a low carbon economy.
All of them will have a keen eye to the future and will be looking for quality jobs with a company that has a future.
I then question how many people in Workington or Whitehaven would want to go back to working in fossil fuels – financed by foreign investors who have little interest for the area, will pay under the median rate – producing a product scientifically known to cause serious damage to the atmosphere and reeks of the past.
First Deep Coal Mine in 30 Years
If given the green light (which we should hear about tomorrow), Woodhouse Colliery – will be UK’s first deep coal mine built in more than three decades.
If the mine goes ahead it will produce about 2.7 million tonnes annually (which has recently gone up from 2.5 million tonnes on West Cumbria Mining (WCM) website) of coking coal targeted for the European and UK market.
WCM’s coking coal will replace metallurgical coal imports mainly from the US, Russia and Australia. Imports that decreased in the UK from 1.2 million tonnes in 2018 to 1.1 million tonnes in 2019.
WCM’s emissions (including scope 3) will result in ¬9 million tonnes of CO2e every year. This is over 2 times Cumbria’s annual emissions at about 3.79 million tonnes C02e per year (BEIS, 2019).
From a possible start date in 2023 to 2049, this equates to a whopping 234 million tonnes of C02e.
Why then is WCM proposing and Cumbria Council about to approve again such a risky, white elephant with a big sign of ‘stranded asset’ on its trunk?
One of the key points (in my mind) is not an objection to the need for steel as the world needs steel to prop it up. But that WCM business model will likely end up as a stranded asset as it relies on a flawed projection that blast furnaces will be in use until 2049. They do not properly consider game changing technologies – such as hydrogen which will likely come on-line for steel, at scale, around 2030. Nineteen years before 2049.
Importantly, a move to hydrogen will place downward pressure on demand for metallurgical coal and prices for will go up – making it even more uncompetitive. This in turn will impact Woodhouse Colliery’s market and profits making the likelihood of it becoming a stranded asset substantive.
Decarbonising Steel Technologies
Decarbonising steel technologies can be put into two categories: Carbon Capture, Use and/or Storage (CCUS), and alternative reduction of iron ore such as Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) that use natural gas or hydrogen-direct iron reduction.
So far, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has suffered from 15 years or so of prickly UK policy support; including the cancellation of two major competitions at the last moment. While, no commercial-scale plant has been built here yet, this is set to change via the Government’s CCUS Action Plan (2018) and the £800 million infrastructure fund for at least two clusters, one by the mid-2020’s and a second by 2030.
The Government has already committed £350 million to develop hydrogen, and this could increase in January 2021 when the Government is expected to release its hydrogen strategy and award funding through its Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge.
Of interest, scrap metal is already being used in Electric Arc Furnaces (EAF), powered by renewables (and this process uses about half of the GHGs of blast furnaces). But apparently, there is not enough scrap to make this a viable alternative and whether or not to use scrap depends on the sector, economics and regulations. The UK produces (has) about 10 million tonnes (p/a) of scrap metal, but rather than keep it on these shores = 80% of it is exported to countries such as Turkey, India, Spain and Pakistan.
This seems to be a wasted opportunity – keeping our scrap metal here is something the UK should be taking more leadership on.
ii) Hydrogen Direction Reduction – H-DRI
In 2016, SSAB, LKAB (Europe’s largest iron ore producer) and Vattenfall (one of Europe’s largest energy companies) created HYBRIT (Hydrogen Breakthrough Iron-making Technology) technology, to replace coking coal with hydrogen made from fossil-free electricity (primarily wind power) and water. A process called direct reduction will replace the blast furnace process and hydrogen is created by splitting water using electrolysis.
In a similar vein, Arcelor Mittal (the world’s largest steel company) recently announced a landmark (for the steel industry) Net Zero target by 2050 and they also plan to go down the H-DRI route, as well as using bio-energy, carbon capture usage and storage (BECCS) – as they see this as a way of providing carbon neutral steel. They think that smart carbon solutions such as CC(U)S are likely to happen sooner, despite the high costs.
Hydrogen storage – will play a very important role in future power and energy balancing, and in large-scale hydrogen production. In Sweden, SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall have started building a rock cavern storage facility for fossil-free hydrogen gas on a pilot scale next to HYBRIT’s pilot facility for direct reduction in Sweden. The storage facility is expected to be ready and operational from 2022 – 2024.
I was interested to read the UK’s academic climate experts (see below) point about cumulative emissions for this project. They said the mine cannot be justified until 2049 in the hope that they will then stop in 2050. GHGs remain in the atmosphere for many years and it is the total, cumulative amount of GHGs that counts. Cumulative emissions add up annual CO2 emissions over time.
CumulativeHistorical Emissions and Responsibility
I’ll add to this point. If Cumbria Council were to consider the cumulative emissions of Copeland (the local area of the mine) going back to say 1840 – its historical emissions are massive. In effect, as Copeland has significantly contributed to the climate problem of today – surely, now is the moment to honour its historical contribution to climate change and clean up its act. Not agree to a new C02 spewing deep coal mine that isn’t needed.
For too long, the focus of historical responsibility and Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) has been at the national level, but it is at the local and regional level where important carbon related decisions such as this mine are decided.
It’s not just Cumbria – all former industrial Councils across the UK should think about their historical emissions too.
Excitingly, West Cumbria has the capability to become the UK’s green energy powerhouse, with its rich bounty of natural resources. But where is this vision? Who is leading on this vision? When will Cumbria’s Net Zero target be discussed more widely and then turned into a strategy and a plan? There are already loud calls to dramatically scale-up net zero in the pandemic recovery plans and Cumbria needs to consider its green recovery.
A Just Transition
As part of the green recovery, the council should consider its just transition strategy that seeks to secure and protect the future and livelihoods of local workers and communities and how they can best become low carbon.
Undeniably, employment opportunities are important to the area, but not jobs equalling 16,000 tonnes CO2e per year – per job (see below). When instead, 510 jobs can now easily be created through Cumbria’s vast renewable potential at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Across the UK, developing net zero skills should be one of the top priorities if the UK is to meet its long term climate goals and seize the opportunities provided by emerging clean technologies.
I hope that Cumbria Council will rethink its recommendation to approve this mine and consider more deeply the multiple historical, economic, social, and environmental risks while ensuring quality jobs, the opportunities of just transition to a low carbon future, and how Cumbria can benefit.
It is important that the Council considers these points now – long before the (non UK) private equity investors make their ‘exit’ and run for the hills in Asia. (See business case post)
And long before, the Council ends up fighting for their share of WCM’s remediation bond that protects the Council when the mine closes, but doesn’t protect the workers future.
Nor indeed – anyone else’s.
See my next post that gives an overview of the Oct 2 CCC planning meeting and decision.
See an overview of the proposed project on tonight’s news – 19 mins in. Interviews with Prof Rebecca Willis and Maggie Mason.
You can read here Green Alliance’s Case Against New Coal Mines (Jan 2020). Their report concludes that a new mine would hinder the development of low carbon alternatives to conventional steel production. What I also found interesting was the way the report estimated the annual salary remuneration against the commodity value of the coking coal that would be extracted. The report states that: “the carbon emissions would be around 16,000 tonnes CO2e per year per job for the lifetime of the mine. This compares with under seven tonnes of CO2e emissions per person per year in the UK at present, a figure which must fall to net zero by 2050. The carbon footprint of the salaries paid would be almost three quarters of a tonne of CO2 per £1 earned by the workforce (700kg CO2e per £).
To understand more about Cumbria’s emissions, see here a carbon baseline report done by Small World Consulting.
You can read hereSLACC‘s second objection. SLACC objects in the strongest terms to the Council’s continued insistence on the “substitution myth” to justify WCM’s stance that the GHG emissions from the “end-use” of the coal in steelmaking can be ignored and that the proposed mine will have a ‘beneficial’ impact on global GHG emissions.
SLACC are also concerned that the Officer’s Report continues to underplay the speed with which European steel-making is working to turn away from Blast Furnaces and a large number of blast furnaces will be replaced by DRI plants with hydrogen injection by 2040 (not 2050). The background information collected does not support 2049 as an end date for the mine.
Evidence presented clearly shows that the production of steel in the quality and quantity that is likely to be required by society, will not require significant use of metallurgical coal in the coming decades. This means that: the “do nothing” and “do something” scenarios in the EIA are still wrong; that perfect substitution will not occur; there will be additional GHG emissions, and there would be a significant adverse impact on global climate change, which should have considerable weight in the planning balance.
SLACC are also concerned that the Council’s case on the need for, and economic benefit from this coal and as a result the Council’s argument of wholly exceptional circumstances that outweigh the acknowledged harm to Ancient Woodland is also unreasonable.
See here Dr Henry Adams (Oct 2) details on climate timelines and WCM’s emissions
See here Professor Paul Ekins (Oct 1) who states (for the second time) that the proposed coal mine is likely to result in considerable additional global carbon emissions and will hamper the development and deployment of low-carbon steel technologies
Here the Business Case Against the Coal Mine (29 Oct) – by Dunacan Pollard and Associates and Eden Works – framed around recommendations of the Task-Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
Importantly, here (30 Sept) and here (18 Sept) advice from top climate experts and academics who do not agree that placing a condition on development, requiring the mine to cease operation in 2049, complies with the UK’s legal obligations on climate change. Namely, the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement.
They also say, the 2050 date for net-zero is the end point in a process, not a sudden halt. Emissions in the years leading up to 2050 are just as significant. GHGs remain in the atmosphere for many years and it is the total, cumulative amount of GHGs that counts. They are also concerned that the mine will damage the UK’s standing as a world leader in phasing out coal. This would be particularly unfortunate as the UK prepares for COP26 in 2021, a major objective of which must be to persuade other countries to turn away from this most polluting and GHG-intensive of fossil fuels,
See a joint submission of objection by Ciara Shannon, EdenWorks and Duncan Pollard & Associates for application 4/17/9007. The Business Case Against West Cumbria Mining (WCM). For consideration for the October 2, Cumbria Council meeting. (Sent Sept 29, 2020)
See a joint request by Ciara Shannon, EdenWorks and Duncan Pollard & Associates to the Secretary of State that he “calls-in” Woodhouse Colliery – 4/17/9007. (Sent Oct 16, 2020).
See my submission, Ciara Shannon, EdenWorks for consideration as part of the Public Inquiry for Woodhouse Colliery. (Sent May 5, 2021)
See my contribution to the public inquiry for Woodhouse Colliery (Sept 8, 2021)
Summary of Objection
Adequate scrutiny must be given to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks of the mine and metallurgical coal market, as well as the governance risks of the project owners EMR Capital, in line with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The TCFD reporting framework, which the UK Government is supportive of, provides an important lens to understand the risks of climate change to companies and investors.
Without adequate attention to the ESG risks, the £165 million investment could soon become a ‘stranded asset’, with negative socio-economic consequences for the local community, Copeland Council, Cumbria Council and the UK Government, if it was asked to bail out the mine. Any economic benefits in terms of export opportunities, regional revitalisation and jobs would be fragile and short lived and Workington and Whitehaven, once again, could become stranded fossil fuel communities like they did following the loss of coal and steel in the 1980’s, on which they thrived.
As our objection states, we do not think that WCM’s business plan is economically viable. This is especially the case given the profit levels over 10 years of £302 million, as quoted by WCM. Recent information submitted by WCM also states it would contribute £300 million in taxes in the first ten years. This is a reduction from £500 million that was proposed previously.
WCM has (or expects to) receive £14.7 million in private equity financing from EMR Capital Resources Fund 1 and they state the mine will add £1.6 billion to the UK’s GDP in its first 10 years of operation, accounting for £2 billion worth of exports and they’ll pay £300 million in taxes.
Our estimate is that taxes are only likely to be £105 million in the first 10 years. This is before consideration of carbon taxes. We also estimate that WCM median salary will be £34,000 – this is lower than the median for Copeland of £35,672 (£37,856 male, £30,784 female) and their taxes are only likely to be £105 million in the first 10 years. Again, before consideration of carbon taxes.
We are also concerned that the mine could soon become a stranded asset as globally there is already 30% oversupply of steel in markets and there are concerns about the future of the industry. In 2019, the UK imported 2.177m tons of coking coal, predominantly from the US and Russia. It is used in steelmaking, and, to a lesser extent, in concrete manufacture and heating.
Globally, the Covid-19 crisis has deepened the state of the steel market and new orders have been cut by up to 70% or so. This has led to a devastating impact on workers, with many facing temporary lay-offs, reduced hours, and an uncertain future.
Add to this, carbon regulations are tightening up in line with the Paris Agreement and the steel industry is being pushed by investors to use clean energy technologies that don’t need coal, to remain competitive.
ArcelorMittal’s (the world’s largest steel company) has a net zero target and this came after extensive engagement via Climate Action 100+, the world’s largest investor engagement initiative on climate change and they are using their financial clout (of USD $47 trillion in assets under management) to demand net zero targets. In this case, engagement was led by Aegon Management and the London Pensions Fund Authority.
If more steel companies and metallurgical coal companies don’t start to decarbonise fast, this could result in significant asset write-down and stranded assets. Strategies to survive will be focused on slashing costs to try and cover liabilities and cover the carbon price. This will impact salaries and job security, which in turn will reduce profits, impact business rates and tax revenue. It is essential that jobs created by WCM do not end up being subsidised by the UK taxpayer and the social and economic impacts of this risky business are thought about now.
In our submission, we outlined the importance of a clear long-term climate strategy that will help Copeland Council make the right carbon-neutral employment and investment decisions. Equally important, is a just transition strategy that seeks to secure and protect the future and livelihoods of workers and communities in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
We also think there will be serious reputational risks to Cumbria Council, Copeland Council and to the UK Government as UK hosts for COP26 in 2021. The investment by WCM in new coal production will put unprecedented attention both locally and nationally onto WCM, Cumbria and the Government in Westminster.
Understandably during the first Covid lockdown, Small World Consulting’s Carbon Baseline for Cumbria 2020 report got buried under other news. However, the report’s recommendation that Cumbria becomes Net-Zero by 2037 now deserves some attention.
While Net-Zero by 2037 is an ambitious target – the big solution for Cumbria will come from a massive 400% increase from the sing song sounding ‘LULUCF’ (Land Use and Land Use Change and Forestry) and their net negative emissions.
Surging to a 400% increase in just seventeen years, will mean a substantial rise in land management actions such as peatland restoration, scrub creation, woodland creation and haymeadow restoration etc.
The report also suggests that Cumbria needs to reduce its energy C02 emissions in 2037 by 13% annually; 5% annual reduction in food and other purchased goods emissions and a 10% annual reduction in visitor travel per visitor day emissions.
Visitors aside, another key issue the report identifies is that on a per capita basis, Eden residents have the highest production-based transport footprint. But it’s not just them – Cumbrian’s drive around 20% more than the UK average and this is probably a reflection of the unaffordable public transport options and the poor rural coverage here. We need many more EV infrastructure facilities, buses running regularly and going to more rural areas, electrified trains, and far more cycling lanes.
But back to peat. Damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but when they are fully-functioning and protected, they also sequester (remove) carbon and they are one of the UK’s largest carbon stores. They also help with reducing the risk of flooding, improve water quality and act as a fantastic host to all sorts of ecosystems.
Peat, while not as glamorous as say carbon woodland management, makes up about 11% of land area in the UK and about 22.9 million tonnes of carbon is stored in the Lake District’s peatlands – equivalent to 84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.1
Quite rightly then, peat and other LULUCF projects should be regarded as shiny jewels in Cumbria’s crown in its fight against climate change.
There are various peatbog restoration projects already underway. Bampton Commons, Bolton Fell Moss, Wedholme Flow, Roudsea Wood and Mosses National Nature Reserve etc. These and other projects are creating large carbon savings with the highest savings coming from restoring severely degraded peats. However, there are many sites in a very poor state and additional funding is needed to stop further carbon loss and water pollution.
Peatland restoration received a funding boost in the UK March Budget 2020 and it’s positive that nature-based solutions are rising up climate policy and financing agendas. [How much of the March funding will go /has already gone to Cumbria I have no idea].
For useful reading on this, see the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recent report that sets out how farming and land use must change to include planting around 30,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland and restoring at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat.
Increased success will come, in part, by incentivising landowners and farmers to make the switch to carbon farming and some carbon farming payment tests and trials have already started in the UK as part of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme payment for “public goods”. ELMS is seen as a real opportunity to tackle the 12 per cent of UK emissions that come from agriculture and land use.
While peat restoration and other LULUCF projects are very important solutions to help remove and store carbon – it is also important to consider the transition period to ELMs and the complexity of the measuring and managing. Plus, the extensive stakeholder engagement to get the incentives and payments right and the funding flowing.
These points and others could well make it tricky for Cumbria to reach the proposed 400% LULUCF target by 2037. That said, the NFU have set a Net-Zero target by 2040 and you can read about it here.
At the same time, it is important to continue to ramp up efforts to reduce and replace fossil fuel use. Counter to this, and indeed contradictory to the UK’s Net-Zero by 2050 target – is the proposed deep coal mine at Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven. While a decision is currently postponed, if it happens it would generate around 8.4 MtCO2e per year (calculated using emissions factors from BEIS, 2017).
This is several times higher than the GHG footprint of all Cumbrian’s 2 and would throw everyone into an ever steeper emission slashing battle.
So far, this project has been justified by Cumbria County Council based on the 500 jobs it would create, “We felt that the need for coking coal, the number of jobs on offer and the chance to remove contamination, outweighed concerns about climate.”
This is true – the need for jobs is undeniable, but it is not a stretch to wonder why 500 people from the area can’t be retrained and employed instead in renewables? Just 8 miles or so from Whitehaven there are plans swirling around for a full-scale tidal lagoon on the coast near Workington. This is potentially a very exciting project and capitalises on the fact that West Cumbria’s coast has one of the UK’s highest tidal ranges. 3
As we know, offshore wind is doing brilliantly well and off the coast of Cumbria is one of the world’s largest operational offshore wind farm, the Walney Extension generating clean electricity for nearly 600,000 homes. Also being discussed is the (apparently controversial) proposed plans for an even bigger wind farm – by Copeland Council nuclear and energy committee.
Then of course, there is the rain and Cumbria’s great bounty of fast flowing water. Hydro, hydro and more of it will also make a positive difference and it is good to read about hydro projects at Logan Gill, Hause Gill and Hayeswater etc. You can read about Cumbria’s considerable potential to deliver on all things renewable energy here.
I would be interested to know how Council members consider stakeholder opinions. Do they use some sort of weighted matrix to quantify and calculate stakeholder concerns on things like visual impact and more – versus meeting the UK Net Zero target by 2050 and benefits to the local community and economy?
What is needed now is that all of this good work is pieced together in a Net-Zero Strategy for Cumbria and Mike Berners-Lee’s recommendation for Net-Zero by 2037 are discussed widely. Alongside this, there should be a ‘Just Transition’ Strategy that maximises the opportunities of decarbonisation, while giving workers and communities a voice to help make the transition to a greener economy a fair and far-reaching one.
Ps: I first looked into and wrote about peat and other negative emissions technologies (NETs) in 2014/5 for the Royal Geographical Society, HK and you can read it here.
I’ve also written a paper on how Cumbria could raise local funding to pay for local peat restoration projects and sent this to a few organisations for them to take the ideas and run with them.
This year there has been an escalation in climate chaos – right now bushfires in Australia burn in five different states and 5+ million of hectares have been razed. Tens of thousands of fires across the Amazon destroyed more than 4.6 million acres of irreplaceable rain forest and many indigenous communities lost their land and livelihoods. Hurricane Dorian utterly devastated the Bahamas leaving 80,000 people homeless; drought spread through Africa, and vital farmland in Bangladesh was lost to sea level rise. Climate change is happening now and requires immediate and ambitious climate action.
85% of New Extraction will Come from North America
The Global Gas and Oil Network’s report says that over the next five years, oil and gas companies intend to invest US$ 1.4 trillion in fossil fuel extraction, locking in the release of 148 Gt of CO2. 85% of this new extraction will come from North America – the United States (much of it from the Permian Basin) and Canada. The other countries are Argentina, China, Norway, Australia, Mexico, UK, Brazil and Nigeria. Just 25 companies are responsible for nearly half of the production and these include European oil majors such as Shell, BP, Total and Equinor.
Yet, if we are to have any chance of keeping global average temperature increase to 1.5°C, we must leave the majority (up to 80%) of fossil fuels in the ground. (Source: Climate Tracker Initiative. Unburnable Carbon (2011). We can’t afford to dig or drill up oil and gas from new fields if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Country Climate Leaders and Laggards
Based on some research I did, after discounting about 55 countries (which had limited comparable climate data) from the world’s 195 countries, we looked at climate data for 140 countries and identified top emitting and fossil fuel producing countries by looking at per capita and absolute emissions, oil, coal and gas production and consumption, their reserves, as well as countries with high deforestation rates.
We also considered which countries had signficant carbon sinks and which countries were the most vulnerable to climate change and how ‘ready’ they were. On top of this, we looked at countries international and national climate policy and we then ranked all of this data into various lists of ‘top 20’ and identified which countries came up multiple times as key ‘climate offending’ countries. (see below).
C02 per Capita
Natural gas Production
Natural gas Reserves
We looked at various climate data sources to get a clearer picture, but a challenge was getting recent data and comparable metrics for so many countries. As there are different ways to compare countries’ emissions, we looked at both absolute emissions and on a per capita basis. We did not look at historical emissions, or the carbon footprint of consumption, including imported goods. “Absolute emissions” are carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of coal, natural gas, oil and other fuels, including industrial waste and non-renewable municipal waste. Over time, the absolute amount is what affects atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and the global carbon budget.
The Top GHG Emitters
The top four GHG emitters, China (27.2%), the United States (14.6%), India (6.8%) and Russia (4.7%) contribute more than half of total global emissions (53.3%), while the bottom 100 countries only account for about 3.5 %. The US is the world’s top producer of oil and has the largest coal reserves, Canada has the third largest oil reserves and third largest deforestation rates. Australia is the top producer of coal, has the third largest coal reserves and Qatar is the top natural gas producer and has the largest C02 per capita. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves and Russia the largest natural gas reserves and largest deforestation rates, followed by Brazil. China has the world’s largest absolute emissions and is the third largest oil producer with the fourth largest coal reserves.
Deforestation, land use change and carbon sinks
Deforestation and land use change is one of the main contributors to climate change producing about 24% of GHGs. Deforestation comes in many forms: wildfire, agricultural land clearance, livestock ranching, and logging for timber etc.
Globally, forests act as carbon sinks and store large amounts of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere, but primary forests, rather than secondary forests (forests regrown after clear-felling of trees) are the best carbon sinks and must be protected against deforestation.
Australia’s annual emissions budget in 2018-19 was 532 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, however the bushfires, which have burnt through more than 5+ million hectares across the country, are estimated to have released two-thirds of this amount – or about 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere so far. This is a low estimate as the bushfires are still spreading. (Source: NASA’s Global Fire Emissions Database). Experts warn the forests in Australia may take more than 100 years to absorb what’s been released so far this season.
Before the fires in the Amazon, a study published in the journal Ecology showed that regrowth in the Amazon rainforest is happening slower than previously thought. Even after 60 years of regrowth secondary forests hold just 40% of the carbon held in primary forests left undisturbed by humans.
Avoiding deforestation and improving land and forest management can reduce emissions significantly, but contradictory subsidies, poor land management and vested corporate interests prevent this from happening. To consider which countries have the highest deforestation rates, the only available data for so many countries was for 2014. Recent devastating fires and deforestation in Australia, Amazon and Indonesia are not considered.
Top 10 – Multiple Issues
We then looked at which countries appeared in the ‘top 20’ for multiple issues (as above). Given many countries have multiple climate ‘offences’ that all pack a punch, ordering them in the above way is useful when looking at which issues to focus advocacy on for each country. (noting there is detailed data behind every country ranking).
Top ‘Offending’ Countries
Multiple Issues in Top 20 (in bracket the number of)
C02 per capita, absolute emissions, oil, coal and natural gas production, oil, coal and natural gas reserves and deforestation (9)
C02 per capita, absolute emissions, oil, coal and natural gas production, oil, coal and natural gas reserves and deforestation (9)
C02 per capita, absolute emissions, oil, coal and natural gas production, oil, coal and natural gas reserves (8)
C02 per capita, absolute emissions, coal and oil production oil, coal and natural gas reserves and deforestation (8)
C02 per capita, absolute emissions, coal production, natural gas production, coal and natural gas reserves and deforestation (7)
Absolute emissions, oil and coalproduction, coal and natural gas reserves and deforestation (6)
Coal, natural gas and oil production, oil, coal and natural gas reserves (6)
C02 per capita, natural gas and oil production, oil and natural gas reserves (5)
C02 per capita, oil and natural gas production, oil and natural gas reserves (5)
Absolute emissions, coal and oil production and coal reserves (4)
C02 per capita, oil and coal reserves and deforestation (4)
Natural gas production, oil and natural gas reserves (3)
Absolute emissions, coal production and coal reserves (3)
Absolute emissions, oil and natural gas reserves (3)
Absolute emissions, coal production and coal reserves (3)
Oil production, coal production and coal reserves (3)
Oil production, natural gas production and deforestation (3)
Absolute emissions, oil reserves and deforestation (3)
C02 per capita, coal production and coal reserves (3)
Absolute emissions, oil and natural gas production (3)
Natural gas and oil reserves and deforestation (3)
Natural gas and oil production and natural gas reserves (3)
Oil reserves and deforestation (2)
Natural gas reserves and deforestation (2)
C02 per capita and absolute emissions (2)
Natural gas and oil production (2)
Oil and natural gas reserves (2)
Oil production and oil reserves (2)
Oil and natural gas production (2)
Russia and Canada
Russia and Canada share the top spot for being ‘worst offenders’ for multiple issues. Russia holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves and the eighth largest crude oil reserves, most of Russia’s production and reserves are found in the Western Siberia basin. Russia is also the biggest exporter in the world of natural gas, contributing more than 40 % of the overall world’s gas export. Plus. Russia has the largest area of forests in the world, with around 12 million km2 of boreal forest, larger than the Amazon rainforest. It is estimated that 20,000 km2 are deforested each year.
In Canada, about 60% of its industrial emissions come from the oil and gas sector and Canadian proven oil reserves are estimated at 171.0 billion barrels. Alberta is Canada’s largest oil and natural gas producer and is home to vast deposits of both resources. According to Canada’s Energy Future report, Canadian oil output will grow by nearly 50% to around seven million barrels per day by 2040, while gas increases by over 30%. This growth is for their export market, as energy use per person is expected to increase by less than 5% by 2040, while the population grows by 20%. Canada’s deforestation rates are high as their forests have been subject to large insect infestations and forest fires.
High Emitters and Producers
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, UAE, UK, USA and Venezuela
High Deforestation Countries
Angola, Australia, Brazil, Canada, DRC, Ivory Coast Madagascar, Mexico, Mozambique, Paraguay and Russia
Need to Protect Their Carbon Sinks
Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, PNG, Tanzania, USA and Zambia
These Countries Need More Support on Vulnerability and Readiness
Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Central African Republic, DRC, Haiti, Madagascar, Mali, Sudan and Zimbabwe
Laggards in Climate Policy (this will change once countries update their NDCs).
Australia, Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Slovenia, Ukraine and USA
Leaders in Climate Policy (this will change once countries update their NDCs).
Argentina, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland and UK
Most Vulnerable and Least Ready Countries ( Source: 6 & 7)
Central African Republic
The list above comes from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative – ND-Gain Country Index which uses a common set of indicators to measure countries vulnerability to climate change and their readiness. Most African countries are highly vulnerable to climate change and the least ready for its impacts. Asia is also very vulnerable to climate change and is home to a large majority of the global poor. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise and an increase in intensity of cyclones etc.