UK planners have the opportunity to stop a new open cast coal mine in Druridge Bay due to climate change concerns. For the sake of a livable and prosperous future for all, they must take it, say coal-affected communities from South Africa.
Communities fighting the expansion of coal mining in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, have reached out in support of UK allies campaigning to stop a new open cast coal mine in Druridge Bay, Northumberland.
In an open letter published today, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) calls on Northumberland County Council and UK planning authorities to reject UK-based Banks Mining’s proposed Highthorn Mine on the basis of its potential climate impacts.
“Almost 100% (of known coal reserves) must remain buried to avoid exceeding the aspirational 1.5°C goal set by the world’s governments in the Paris Climate Accord… We urge you take this historic opportunity to make a globally significant statement about the UK’s climate leadership by rejecting this mine,” writes Billy Mnqondo of MCEJO.
In a UK first, after initially being given the green light by Northumberland County Council, the Highthorn Mine has been called in by UK planning authorities on climate change grounds.
Save Druridge Bay
This move has been welcomed by local campaigners from community group Save Druridge Bay, which is opposing the mine. Save Druridge Bay and national organisations including Friends of the Earth UK and Coal Action Network argue the Highthorn Mine would not only contribute negatively to climate change, but also destroy a beloved landscape and endanger wildlife including otters, owls and orchids.
With UK demand for thermal coal of the kind the Highthorn Mine would produce rapidly dwindling, and without major established export markets, campaigners say the mine is uneconomical and would only serve to harm a coastal area with a self-sustaining tourism industry.
The new planning hearing is set to start on 31st May and and will run until 16th June. MCEJO’s letter will be read out as evidence during the hearing, reminding planners that climate change knows no borders and stating solidarity with the people of Druridge Bay in their struggle.
Not in our name
MCEJO members have direct experience of resisting unwanted coal developments. Established in 2014 the organisation aims to amplify the voices of local communities living on the borders of the Hluhluwe Mfolozi Game Reserve.
These communities are facing a threat to their agricultural livelihoods, homes, clean air and water in the form of Ibutho Coal’s planned Fuleni coal mine and Petmin’s active Somkhele coal mine which lies some 10km away.
“We know what it is like to live under the shadow of a coal mining application, because we have firsthand experience of this… Our community/organization also has firsthand experience of the blasting, dust, water theft and other impacts of an open cast coal mining operation”, writes Mnqondo.
MCEJO made the decision to reach out to the people of Druridge Bay after hearing that, in the original Highthorn mine planning hearing, Banks Mining argued it would be better to mine coal in the UK than in developing nations with lower standards, like Colombia.
Responding to Banks’s line of argument, in their letter MCEJO stress that their struggles, and those of communities like them around the world, must not be used as a reason to pursue more coal mining anywhere in the world.
“We are astonished at this illogical argument that a coal mine in England in the UK is going to be beneficial to mining in Africa and other developing countries! A new coal mine in the UK would provide legitimacy for mining companies to continue to exploit and devastate Africa and other countries by saying that if a new coal mine is viable in the UK, then coal mining must still be a viable industry”, write MCEJO.
“As a community affected by open cast coal mining, we would strongly recommend that if the UK is sincere about trying to have a positive impact in other countries, then the best thing to do is not to commission another coal mine.”
In an article earlier this year, Deniz Kemal from environmental law firm ClientEarth wrote that, over its lifetime, the Druridge Bay coal mine would be responsible for the release of more than 8.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“That is the equivalent of driving 1.8 million cars for a year – or, more pertinently, installing 2,150 wind turbines”, wrote Kemal.
These figures indicate just how incompatible Banks Mining’s plans are with the UK’s binding climate targets and its aim for a total coal phase out by 2025.
The prospect of industrialised Global North nations sanctioning such emissions in the form of new fossil fuel projects is also particularly concerning for communities around the globe, and especially in sub-Saharan nations like South Africa.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Sub-Saharan Africa is amongst the most vulnerable regions to climate change, in terms of food and water insecurity, increased exposure to coastal flooding and extreme climactic events. Communities in Kwa Zulu Natal are already feeling the impacts, write MCEJO.
“We also are severely challenged by climate change as a result of South Africa’s reliance on fossil fuels, the worst being a severe seven year drought that resulted in many deaths of our livestock and even wildlife in the neighbouring Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. Predictions for future weather patterns for our area are extreme droughts followed by excessive rain and flooding.”
The Druridge Bay planning inquiry offers the UK, a nation that bears a disproportionate responsibility for climate change, and whose wealth, empire and influence have been built on reckless fossil fuel extraction, to show climate leadership.
“It is vital that this application is rejected, sending a strong signal to Banks and other mining companies that no new opencast coal mine will be opened in England and Wales. At present there are four opencast coal mine applications active in the UK. It needs to be shown that the government will not allow coal mining due to the untold damage caused to local communities and its contribution to climate change,” says Anne Harris of the Coal Action Network.
With other open cast applications in the pipeline, the decision regarding the Highthorn Mine’s future is highly significant. If the mine is rejected on climate change grounds, it would likely mean the end of new coal mining in the world’s oldest industrial nation.
Aware of the potential of this case to set a precedent, MCEJO end their letter on a note of encouragement.
“The approval of a coal-fired power station in South Africa was recently rejected by our courts because the application had not considered the impacts of climate change. If Africa is taking cognizance of the reality of climate change, we call on the UK to do the same.
The whole world is watching this decision. Please do not fail us.”
Find out more about the struggle to protect land, life, water and wilderness in Mfolozi, South Africa.