Quaker Charity and IPCC Author Blast Coal Mine Plan

Quakers for Sustainability

Laurie  Michaelis was a Lead Author  on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, including the Special Report on Emission Scenarios.  He continues to serve as an Expert Reviewer for the IPCC, including the Special Report on Global Warming 1.5°C currently in development.

Laurie is the Quakers for Sustainability expert and he has written to Cumbria County Council outlining why they should turn down the coal mine plan. His letter and memo is reproduced in full below.

Dear Rachel Brophy

Planning Application 4/17/9007: Woodhouse Colliery

I am writing to comment on the above application and to ask to be allowed to speak at the Development Control Committee meeting on 7th March.   ( note this is now 18th April)

My comments centre on the climate change implications of the proposed mine and on the business case for the mine. As far as I can see these have not been addressed in any meaningful way by the applicant. There are several issues which need to be addressed for the Council to meet its obligations within the National Planning Policy Framework:

  1. Since every country in the world has signed the Paris Climate Agreement, we are all committed to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C (see Annex). These limits are only possible with a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels to achieve zero net CO2 emissions around mid-century. WCM appears not to acknowledge this commitment or its implications in proposing a new coal mine with a ‘notional’ life of 50 years. In removing coal from underground and supplying it to steel manufacturers, the mine would be contributing to a continuation of CO2 emissions that would run counter to the Paris Agreement.


  1. UK Government policy does not yet reflect the Paris Agreement but is still working in the context of the 2008 Climate Change Act. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which has a statutory role guiding the government in implementing the Act, has advised that policies need strengthening to meet emission reduction goals in the coming 15 years[1]. Lord Deben, CCC chairman, has said[2] that the committee will not provide advice to the Government on meeting its Paris commitments until the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C is finalised later this year. It is clear, however, from the bulk of the science and policy literature that has emerged in the last two years, that UK climate change policies will need considerable further strengthening.


  1. Through one assumed scenario in which its coal displaces coal from the US imported to Europe, WCM claims that the mine would reduce global CO2 emissions by about 40kg per tonne of coal produced by reducing shipping distances. However, the coal will generate 3100kg of CO2 per tonne[3], whether it is burned or used in steelmaking (in which carbon, the main constituent of the coal, reacts with the oxygen in iron oxide, the main constituent of iron ore, to produce iron and CO2).


  1. The whole system of iron ore extraction, shipping, smelting, manufacture and use needs to be, and probably will be, transformed in the coming decades. Many governments and at least parts of the steel industry are well aware of the need to rapidly decarbonise the sector and are working hard on being prepared for the future. Changes are likely to include reduction in the use of steel, so that most if not all demand can be met by recycling, and deployment of one or more of the ultra-low carbon methods of steelmaking currently being developed – whether based on biomass, hydrogen or electrolysis. Iron ore itself is shipped to the UK in larger quantities than the coal used to smelt it, from countries including Brazil and Canada. It would make more sense for any residual iron production from ore to be close to iron ore mines; some of the world’s largest iron ore producers (Brazil, China) also have the greatest potential for and commitment to renewable energy. The world does not need new coal mines.


  1. If this mine were to go ahead and the coal that is now safely underground in the custody of Cumbria County Council were to end up as CO2 in the atmosphere, there would be a serious risk of climate change impacts including some thousands of deaths extending long into the future (see Annex). The mine could also result in global loss of livelihoods and homes numbering many times greater than the jobs created in Cumbria. While within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the primary responsibility for reducing emissions falls on the country in which the emissions take place (in this case, use of the coal for steel making or as fuel), causal and moral responsibility for the emissions is shared by a) those involved in removing the coal from the ground, b) those involved in converting it to CO2 and releasing it to the atmosphere (the steel makers), and c) those involved in producing and consuming final products. If Cumbria County Council knowingly allows this mine to be developed, it bears at least a share of moral responsibility for those deaths and may in the future bear legal responsibility.


  1. The Planning Statement does not address the significant risk that the proposed mine would become a stranded asset and would need to be abandoned within ten to twenty years, along with the 500 jobs. The mine would divert people’s valuable time, energy and creativity from addressing the need for sustainable development in the region.

I have included a short bio outlining some of my relevant experience in the Annex.

Yours sincerely


Laurie Michaelis

[1] Committee on Climate Change: An independent assessment of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy, January 2018.

[2] Lord Deben was responding to a question on 7th February at the Faith for the Climate Network Symposium, London.

[3] UK Government Emission Factors for Company Reporting, 2017



Mortality risk associated with CO2 emissions

The UK government, along with every other UN Member State, has signed the Paris Climate Agreement. Article 2.1(a) commits the signatories to:

‘Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’.[4]

Global average warming currently stands at just over 1°C. Risks and impacts associated with 2°C and greater temperature increases have been set out in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers[5], approved by governments of IPCC Member States including the UK Government, states that:

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”

“Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”

Among other risks, a 2°C global average rise would expose significant populations to extreme weather events, jeopardise food security and increase the range of infectious diseases, and make some current centres of population uninhabitable with large scale loss of homes and livelihoods. The human consequences depend on how people respond, but mass migration and violent conflict are likely.

The World Health Organisation has assessed the implications of climate change for mortality associated with a limited range of health impacts (heat stress, child undernutrition and three diseases)[6]. It finds a total of approximately 240,000 deaths per year from these causes between 2030 and 2050. This is with a global temperature rise of approximately 1.5°C temperature rise, resulting from cumulative CO2 emissions of approximately 2 trillion tonnes since 1880[7]. The mortality resulting from these emissions can be expected to continue well into the future – on the order of a century. On the conservative assumption that mortality rises linearly with global temperature and with cumulative CO2 emissions, since 2 trillion tonnes of CO2 emissions results in at least 24 million deaths, the 500 million tonnes of CO2 that would result from using the coal from the proposed mine would cause at least 6000 deaths.

Mortality is likely to rise nonlinearly with global temperature rise, because people will become less able to adapt to local changes in climate; and other causes of death are likely to be significant, possibly much more so, than those included in the WHO assessment. Climate change with temperatures exceeding 2°C would pose a substantial and serious risk to global food security and health, which could potentially result in early deaths for a significant proportion of the world population. It is possible that the next 2 trillion tonnes of CO2 emissions could cause on the order of one billion early deaths. In this scenario the proposed mine would cause 250,000 deaths.


Laurie Michaelis: a short bio

Laurie Michaelis is the co-ordinator of Living Witness, a Quaker charity supporting engagement with sustainability and climate change. He has a degree in physics and a PhD in energy studies and has worked with a variety of approaches for evaluating the climate change impacts of products, services, processes, activities and lifestyles.

In the early 1990s he was part of a team in the Strategic Studies Department at the Energy Technology Support Unit, assessing long-term technology policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for UK government, European Commission and World Bank.

He went on to the International Energy Agency and the OECD where responsibilities included supporting the development of national reporting and review processes under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, preparing policy papers for climate negotiators, supervising staff of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme (then operated by OECD), and participating in ‘In-Depth Review’ teams evaluating national policies on energy and climate change in several countries.

He was a Lead Author or Convening Lead Author on several IPCC reports, including the Special Report on Emission Scenarios. He continues to serve as an Expert Reviewer for the IPCC, including the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, currently in development.

[4] The text of the agreement can be accessed at http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php

[5] http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/

[6] World Health Organisation, 2014: Quantitative Risk Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on Selected Causes of Death, 2030s and 2050s.WHO, Geneva.

[7] There are multiple mechanisms by which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and these are changing as a consequence of climate change, so it is not possible to define a CO2 lifetime, but a first approximation is that global average warming is proportional to cumulative emissions.


FURTHER INFO Sent on 1st March

1st March 2018

Further to my letter of 12th February (attached for reference), I would like to raise a further matter in relation to the climate change implications of the proposed mine.

West Cumbria Mining hopes to export the coal from the proposed mine, so emissions resulting from its use, whether as a fuel or for iron smelting, would arise outside the UK. However greenhouse gas emissions from the mine itself, associated operations and inland transport of the coal would form part of the UK’s national inventory and would need to be accounted for within the budgets under the Climate Change Act 2008. Cumbria County Council has itself committed to play its part in meeting the national commitment by achieving emission reductions from residents, visitors and industry, in the Cumbria Climate Change Action Plan, 2009-2014 (I can find no record of an update to this).

The DEFRA Emission Factors for Company Reporting, 2017 give upstream emissions from coking coal supply as 442kg CO2e per tonne of coal. A large part of this will be associated with energy use and methane emissions from the mine. At a production rate of 2.8 Mt/year, the proposed mine would generate 1.24MtCO2e. The latest figure I can find for CO2 emissions in Cumbria was given in a presentation by Phil Davies, County Council Climate Change Officer, in 2010 and related to emissions in 2005. That figure was 7.4 Mt.

West Cumbria Mining has not given an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions from its proposed project, but based on the above figures, it would constitute a significant increase in Cumbria’s greenhouse gas emissions. It would make it impossible for Cumbria County Council to meet its commitment, enabling the county to play its part in reducing national emissions by 80% by 2050.


Yours sincerely

Laurie Michaelis