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UN calls on Norway to close coal mines

World Coal,

The UN’s executive secretary on climate change, Christiana Figueres, has said that Norway should close its coal mines on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Figueres said the mines were out of step with the climate research programmes Svalbard is renowned for.

“Well, the coal mining in Svalbard is very incongruous with what the island actually stands for – namely climate research,” Figueres said. “These fit very poorly together. The mines on Svalbard, yes, I think Norway should close these mines but should do it in a way that is exemplary. There is a huge opportunity. Norway has had a leadership role for many years, and has really challenged other countries. If the authorities can find out how they can get the coal mines here closed, that will strengthen Norway’s position.”

“Norway has a huge opportunity to show the world how this can be done in a way that is fair to the locals,” Figueres continued. “They can contribute to a sustainable economic restructuring and maintain the sovereignty of the islands. It most be done in a proper strategic way.”

A long history of mining

Mines have operated on Svalbard since the early 1900s. Norway’s climate and environment minister, Tine Sundtoft, said that shutting down the mines would not be easy. “We face a dilemma here,” Sundtoft said. “Coal mining on Svalbard has been and still is an important part of the basis for the Norwegian presence on Svalbard.”

The former government approved a new coal mining venture at Lunckefjell in 2011, which only has a five-year lifespan. Sundtoft said the current government had not decided on its approach going forward, but that carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be a possibility. She said she could not rule out the government allowing more new mines on the archipelago.

“I cannot answer that today,” Sundtoft told Norwegion Broadcasting (NRK). “We have a history where coal mining has been an important prerequisite for the Norwegian presence on Svalbard. At the same time, we know if we do reach the two degree climate change target, then we cannot recover the Norwegian coal going forward.”

Oil and gas increasingly expensive

Figueres said Norway should also consider whether exploiting increasingly harder-to-reach oil and gas reserves was economically feasible.

“Norway should look at the cost of searching for more oil and gas,” Figueres said. “Most of the oil and gas that is cheap to recover is already used. It is becoming steadily more expensive to search in new and challenging places. The authorities should carefully consider if this is reasonable in a time when energy with low emissions is becoming more and more important.”

Figueres also said that she could see the point of using coal mines on Svalbard for CCS research, as countries around the world look to decrease carbon emissions and move towards a cleaner energy future. 

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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