Speaking to Radio 4’s Today Programme on Tuesday, the Conservative Mayor insisted the Whitehaven-based coal mine will be vital to produce coke and coal needed to make steel. Mr Starkie argued UK steel production will need to significantly ramp up in the coming years if the Government are to complete large green energy infrastructure projects such as tidal and solar energy farms for its “green revolution” to be a success. But campaigners say the mine, which will be operated by West Cumbria Mining, will undermine Britain’s target to become ‘net-zero’ by 2050 and its diplomatic efforts to encourage other countries such as the US and China to wind down their coal usage.
They add how the construction will also cast a shadow over climate conference COP26 which will take place in Glasgow in November where world leaders will meet to formulate action plans to combat climate change.
But Mr Starkie told the programme campaigners are not looking at the bigger picture of the requirements needed for such ambitious green projects.
He said: “It is not a short-term bet, we are looking at 30-years. The demand for metallurgical coal remains and will continue to increase.”
Mr Starkie added how if the UK is to achieve a “green industrial revolution” then “substantial amounts of steel” will be in demand.
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He stressed as a result demand for coke and coal “is going to be huge” and the mine will fill that demand gap.
Proponents of the mine also argue it will provide over 500 much-needed jobs in the area and will be a large economic boost for the area.
Mr Starkie also called on the public to focus on “where the real issues are” surrounding climate change as he launched a scathing attack on the United States, China, and India for their role in greenhouse gas emissions.
He branded the three nations as being responsible for “over 50-percent” of worldwide emissions while the UK only contributes “1.1 percent”.
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But appearing alongside Mr Starkie on the show, John Ashton, the UK’s former climate envoy argued that steelmakers are making progress to develop steel with hydrogen, without the environmentally harmful coke and coal process.
He urged the government to speed up the transition to this process “in the next 15-years” adding how the market for the coal from the planned Cumbria mine “will close a long time before the champions of the mine say it will”.
Mr Ashton claimed the mine was an “unattractive bet” for local people before slamming the plans for their “here today, gone tomorrow” approach.
The plans for the mine attracted opposition at the start of the year and were used as an example of a lack of joined-up thinking from the government who have been making big promises on the environment.
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Such promises include Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 while also encouraging other countries to follow suit.
Opponents of the scheme also claim the 2.7m tonnes of metallurgical coal West Cumbria Mining plan to extract would not be suitable for domestic steel production despite the company claiming it is suitable.
Two demonstrations are planned to coincide with the launch of the inquiry. One will take place near the site of the proposed mine’s processing plant in Whitehaven, West Cumbria, and another outside the offices of the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government in Whitehall. Campaigners say they are looking to “show public resolve” through the rallies.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick called the inquiry in early March citing “local” concerns despite waving the project previously. The inquiry is expected to run on for at least four weeks and a final decision on the plans is not expected before COP26 due to start in November.