Climate change group Coal Action Network has been granted a judicial review to challenge the expansion of Aberpergwm coal mine, near Neath. Daniel Therkelsen explains says it shouldn't have had to embark on legal action.

As we teeter on the precipice of catastrophic climate change and the Climate Change Committee increasingly rebukes the UK Government’s lack of progress on its own targets, a 42 million tonne coal mine expansion in South Wales is licenced to run for another 18 years.

The Aberpergwm coal mine expansion commits the UK to around 100 million tonnes of CO2, and 1.17 million tonnes of the potent climate change accelerant, methane, from the coal mine itself. 

The governments of the UK and Wales failed to prevent this climate wrecking project, amidst a farcical display of public finger-pointing dating back to early November as to which government actually had the responsibility and power to stop it.

Despite receiving over 4,000 emails from Coal Action Network supporters asking both governments to politely agree which can stop it, then get on with stopping it—the licence was awarded in January 2022, and the matter continues unsettled.

Coal Action Network stepped in to start a resource-demanding judicial review to clear up the picture—something that the governments with all their resources should have done long ago.  

We want clarity from the Welsh Government that if it turns out from this judicial review that the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion does need Welsh Government approval, it won’t get it.

No ifs, no buts, no caveats.

A coal mine that releases 1.17 million tonnes of methane from the mine itself, irrespective of how the coal is used, cannot be made compatible with the Future Generations Act, it cannot be made compatible with the government’s own climate policies, and it cannot be made compatible with a workforce trained and skilled in sustainable job prospects with a future. Yet the Welsh Government is being evasive and sometimes refusing to answer this simple question. 

The UK Government is weaponising soaring household energy prices to justify a swing back to fossil fuel reliance, last month extending the life of coal power station West Burton—but the most recent Climate Change Committee highlights the government’s dismal performance in home insulation which could have delivered real savings right now and into the future.

The coal from the Aberpergwm coal mine will not reduce energy bills—it is not used to generate electricity. That also means it’s not affected by the Government’s 2024 phase-out date for coal-fired electricity production.

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What we need is to keep all coal in the ground now—distant net-zero targets, decarbonisation of the steel industry, and other measures are not translating into real progress.

Climate Change Committee Chairman, Lord Deben, recently pointed out: “The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them”.

With the news that our case can proceed to a full judicial review in the High Court to challenge the Aberpergwm coal expansion licence, there’s the chance we’ll keep 42 million tonnes of coal in the ground—that’s what the government’s distant climate targets are failing to do.  

If we win this judicial review we could significantly raise the bar on starting a new coal mine in the UK. The outcome of Judicial Reviews are always uncertain but our legal team at Richard Buxton Solicitors, and Barrister Estelle Dehon (QC) are highly experienced—though they are pitted against the well-resourced legal teams of the UK and Welsh Governments. 

Daniel Therkelsen is a campaigner with the Coal Action Network 

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