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Use of evidence and expertise in UK climate governance: the case of the Cumbrian Coal Mine

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Article numbere068
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>6/02/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>UCL open. Environment
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


There is an overall scientific consensus that no new coal mines can be developed, if the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises is to be met. Yet in December 2022, following a lengthy Public Inquiry, the UK Government approved the development of Woodhouse Colliery in Cumbria. In doing so, it accepted the claim that the coal mine would be 'zero carbon' and could even result in lower global emissions overall. As this paper demonstrates, there is no independent evidence to support these claims, whilst a large body of independent evidence comes to the opposite conclusion. This paper uses the example of Woodhouse Colliery to examine the use of evidence and expertise in climate governance processes. It finds that the nature of expertise and evidence is not properly considered, and that there is ambiguity and confusion surrounding the implementation of the UK's climate legislation, particularly the Climate Change Act. It also finds that the ways in which the decision-making process solicited and assessed evidence was flawed, promoting a 'false balance'. This ambiguity and false balance provide scope for developers to argue the case for destructive developments, even while claiming adherence to climate ambitions. The paper concludes by suggesting reforms to governance processes, to provide a more transparent and credible implementation of policies to achieve the UK's net zero target. Suggested reforms include clearer rules governing fossil fuel phase-out; greater transparency and better handling of conflicts of interest in decision-making; and devolution of climate responsibilities to local areas.