Watch: Norway's last coal miners fight for survival against climate policy

The town was founded as a mining settlement in 1906
The town was founded as a mining settlement in 1906 Copyright Reuters
By Lindsey Johnstone with Reuters
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Norway's last coal mine, in the Arctic archipelago, is under threat of closure. It is situated in the northernmost town on Earth – which is also the fastest heating, thanks to climate change.


Norway's last coal mine, Gruve 7 in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, is under threat of closure.

The mine is situated in the northernmost town on Earth – which is also the fastest heating thanks to climate change, caused in part due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Locals, who have worked in the mine for generations, say the closure of the state-owned plant will mean an end to a way of life.

Crouching in a space just one metre high, miner Bent Jakobsen rips pieces of coal from the wall and breaks them apart with gloved hands.

"I've been working here for 14 years, and I love it. I had a father who had been working for 37 years in the mine. I had brothers working here. I had uncles working in the mine, so I've grown up in a mining family," he says proudly.


Svalbard's main town, Longyearbyen, has a population of just over 2,000 and was founded by American miner John Munro Longyear in 1906, then sold to the Store Norske mining company in 1916.

The town is rapidly feeling the effects of climate change. Since 1970, average annual temperatures have risen by 4℃ in Svalbard, with winter temperatures rising more than 7℃, according to a report released by the Norwegian Centre for Climate Services in February.

The "Climate in Svalbard 2100" report warns that the annual mean air temperature in Svalbard is projected to increase by 7 to 10℃ by the end of this century. Statistically, Longyearbyen is the fastest heating town on the planet.

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The mine lies 8km into the mountainside of Adventdalen, where for almost half the year the sun never rises above it. Between 120 and 150,000 tonnes of coal are produced here, 20% of which is used in the town's powerplant, with the rest sold to the metallurgical industry in Germany.

Following pressure on an environmentally and financially conscious government, the state-owned company Store Norske, which owns the mine, suspended mining at two bigger mines on Svalbard in 2016. In 2017, the government announced that it would permanently close all sites apart from Gruve 7.

Bent Jakobsen has worked in the mine for 14 yearsReuters

Workers worry that they will be the next to go, as Svalbard concentrates on becoming a tourist destination and moves away from its historic mining industry.

"I do hear everything they say about climate change but I know from the past we have had super mild winters, especially on Svalbard. I think it goes in cycles," Jakobsen says.

"This coal in mine 7, we don't use in the power plant, we use most of the coal in the metallurgic industry which we absolutely need. So we need coal for making cars and cellphones and so forth, but that is the thing that people don't think about. We don't have any good substitution yet."

He adds: "Around here everything is dependent on the coal miners, so without us, what do we have left? We have tourism, well tourism pollutes too.

"Longyearbyen was founded because of coal mining, and we are fading out. We are the last ones."

Video editor • Ivan Sougy

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