You are currently viewing Controversy Before the COP26: The Dangers of Coal Mining

Coal is known for its versatility and is an important natural resource for generating electricity, producing steel and iron, refining metals, making paper and creating chemicals. Coal is also cheap, easily accessible and safe to use and therefore, it is the most in-demand natural resource for the world’s industries.

So, why is Greta Thunberg opposed to the opening of a new coal mine in Whitehaven, in Cumbria?
In spite of the benefits of coal, reaped by industries and people in general, coal mining engenders some serious environmental issues. It is also known to be one of the major contributors to climate change.

Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist

Following are the reasons why:

“In areas where seams of coal lie relatively close to the surface, strip coal mining competes with agriculture for the use of the land” (Walter, 1949). Strip coal mining has devastating effects on land and ecosystems, and leads to water pollution,  deforestation, soil erosion and accelerated surface runoff. It also makes land unsuitable for re-vegetation and crop production.

Sulphide minerals released from coal mines and pyrite from coal waste result in contamination of water
bodies and loss of aquatic ecosystems (Oliveira, Machado, G.W Duarte & M. Peterson, 2016). Coal Mine Methane is usually captured from mines to be used a source of fuel. However, in the past, ineffective processes of ventilating the gas has led to explosions and leakage into atmospheric air. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The Abbeystead Disaster of 1984 is an example of the danger of methane emissions from underground coal beds.

Coal mining may lead to endlessly burning coal fires which contributes to global warming. Currently, there are thousands of coal fires burning across the world. According to scientists, Australia’s Burning Mountain, the oldest known coal fire, has burned for 6,000 years (Krajick, 2005). Coal fires may start due to natural occurrences like self-ignition, or industrial accidents such as an explosion. Coal fires lead to cracking of land, as coal burns away to cinders, reducing support underneath the land. Direct contact with fires and chemical by-products of the combustion and coal debris put communities and ecosystems near the coal fields under threat. Although several efforts are generally being made by industry leaders, workers and scientists to reduce the harmful impacts of coal mining on the environment, the risks associated with coal mining should not be undermined.

According to Thunberg, the UK government’s refusal to “intervene with the plans of opening a brand new English coal mine” defeats the purpose of the Net-Zero 2050 initiative by the European Climate Foundation. The government’s inaction also seems to erode the seriousness of the COP26 to be held in Glasgow, in October, 2021.

Blog By:

Madhupriya Roy Chowdhury


  • BBC News. (2021, January 8). Greta Thunberg criticises Whitehaven coal mine plan. BBC. Retrieved from:
  • Dodds, C. (2016, September 26). Methane Gas Detection – detecting the dangers of methane gas leaks. Retrieved 21 July 2021, from website:
  • Edwards, G. A. S. (2019). Coal and climate change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. Climate Change.
  • Gervet, B. (n.d.). Coal Fire emission contributes to global warming. Retrieved 21 July 2021, from
  • Montrie, C. (2003). To save the land and people: A history of opposition to surface coal mining in
    Appalachia. Chapel Hill, NC, USA: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Oliveira, C. M., Machado, C. M., Duarte, G. W., & Peterson, M. (2016). Beneficiation of pyrite from coal mining. Journal of Cleaner Production, 139, 821–827.
  • SUEK. (n.d.). Retrieved 21 July 2021, from website: