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

    Use of evidence and expertise in UK climate governance : The case of the Cumbrian Coal MineCrossref
    I am not particularly comfortable star rating academic work, but I understand that this is required.
    Average rating:
        Rated 4.5 of 5.
    Level of importance:
        Rated 5 of 5.
    Level of validity:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of completeness:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of comprehensibility:
        Rated 5 of 5.
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    Reviewed article

    • Record: found
    • Abstract: found
    • Article: found
    Is Open Access

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

    There is a clear 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.

      Review information

      This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at www.scienceopen.com.

      Political science,Environmental economics & Politics,Environmental management, Policy & Planning
      Public policymaking,Climate change,evidence,UK,Politics of the environment,steel,Climate modelling,expertise,planning,Climate Change Act,coal,Environmental policy and practice,Cumbria,climate

      Review text

      This review has been provided on behalf of Prof Maria Lee, Faculty of Laws, UCL

      I think this is a great paper, interesting, challenging – it wouldn’t make it into one of the top law journals, but that is clearly not necessary. I should say that I agree with the author on the principle around the coal mine. I don’t think that the evidence points are the most interesting part of the paper – the question of linking (in law / policy) climate targets with individual decisions / projects is crucial.

      A few things.

      1. It isn’t accurate to say that it is clear / uncontested that new fossil fuel / coal developments are incompatible with the Paris Agreement. That gives the impression that everyone agrees this would be a breach of international law, whilst actually the status of the different parts of Paris (legally binding, and on whom, or not) is extremely complex. Better would be to say that many respected scientists agree that they would make meeting Paris’ 1.5 degree target impossibly difficult on current technology or even would / may be incompatible with meeting the 1.5 target set out in Paris. (This point recurs throughout.)
      2. P 4 para at line 138 doesn’t cover all of the points expanded on in this section (misses the planning point).
      3. A few points on section 3.2 (which I think leads into a crucial critique).
        1. I wouldn’t cite the NPPF as 2012 – it’s been updated multiple times, and presumably we’re working with the 2021 version here?
        2. The decision in Finch (cited and relied on by the SoS) is significant re downstream emissions. It’s a complex decision, but essentially leaves the inclusion of those emissions in the evaluative discretion of the planning decision maker. (And note that the appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court in June.)
        3. I’m not sure it’s quite nuanced enough to say that the inspector’s job is (solely) about compliance with planning law. The decision is one of evaluative planning judgment. The decision must be lawful of course, and it must comply with all law, not just planning law. The point (and the criticism in this paper as I read it) is that as currently interpreted, no single decision can readily be argued to be unlawful in respect of climate targets. (This point recurs)
        4. Line 198-99 – yes.
      4. I think that the claim at 314-315 might be softened – not convinced all of these points are planning matters in law.
      5. Line 353-55 – this is a matter of evaluative judgment I think rather than technical evidence? The law on material considerations in planning is fairly complex – the courts (the law) tell us what is and is not capable of being a material consideration, but the decision maker decides what weight to give to those material considerations, including giving them no weight as long as that is not irrational.
      6. I take the point and I don’t disagree with the author, but the arguments about neutrality and evidence are going to cut in both directions – climate campaigners, NGOs and local people will also have their own values and beliefs, and we’ll see that challenged in other cases. Similarly with the credentialling that goes on in the table – usually going to help developers rather than under resourced local campaigners. But it’s a really good challenge.
      7. The suggestions in 6.1 re the legislation are good, but potentially ever so complex in law.

      Additionally, I am not particularly comfortable star rating academic work, but I understand that this is required.

      Prof Maria Lee, Faculty of Laws, UCL


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