The vote is non-binding and isn’t about putting fossil fuels beyond use.
Instead the argument suggests that if the AMs indicated they wish for a moratorium on opencast mining in Wales and the Welsh Government implemented it, Wales could effectively place its substantial reserves out of reach
The letter says: “Very shortly you will have the opportunity to vote for a moratorium on opencast coal mining in Wales. With the existing moratorium on fracking and the demise of the deep coal mining industry, this means that Wales has the possibility of opening a new chapter in its history.
"It means that Wales could become the first country in the world with substantial fossil fuel reserves to put them beyond use. It’s a moment of global and inter-generational significance.”
Indication on how AMs feel
As well as Naomi Klein, other signatories include prominent American environmentalist Bill McKibben and former chair of Friends of the Earth International Nnimmo Bassey.
Ms Klein became widely known during the rise of the anti-globalisation in the early 2000s. More recently her book This Changes Everything argued that neo-liberal economics can’t address the issue of climate change.
Today’s individual members debate is not directly about fossil fuels but is directly about the impact of opencast mining on Welsh communities – with concerns about how sites are restored and how close they are to residents.
The motion itself will not change Welsh Government policy but will be an indication about how AMs feel on the topic.
The motion, proposed by Bethan Jenkins of Plaid, William Graham of the Welsh Conservatives, Lynne Neagle of Labour and William Powell of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, calls for a moratorium on opencast mining across Wales, in order to ascertain whether planning law and current guidance provides sufficient protection for communities affected by opencast mining.
There are longstanding calls around the world to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Ms Jenkins, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West, said: “This is a fine aspiration. Coal is a carbon-producing, finite fossil fuel and will at some point cease to be a fuel we will use.
“However, having said that, perhaps as many as 500 people across Wales rely upon it for their livelihoods and we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the Thatcher, Heath, Wilson and Macmillan governments when thousands of miners were thrown on unemployment’s scrapheap as pits were closed.
'It is going to take time'
“As a party, Plaid Cymru has proposed a green skill college for the Valleys, retraining people in renewables. In this, we should be given a massive boost by the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, so we are going the right way.
“But it is going to take time. It won’t be done overnight.”
She added: “This debate has come about because people are fed up with the impotence of local authorities, around which opencast operators often run rings.
“They are fed up with those operators ignoring legally binding conditions as they see fit.”
Mr Powell said: “We are lucky that Wales is extremely rich in resources. However, we must commit ourselves to no longer exploit those resources in a way that threatens the welfare of future generations.
“The use of coal is not sustainable in the long or even medium term and I call upon the Welsh Government to show real leadership on this important issue... We must find a way to keep the lights on – but this cannot be at the expense of blighting communities across Wales.”
Strength of feeling
However William Graham has previously said that the debate is not about fossil fuels, and wasn’t aimed at stopping open-cast mining altogether, but ensuring all mines comply with existing planning advice notices, such as the a 500m buffer zone.
Gareth Clubb, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, who is also a signatory to the letter, said: “The eyes of the world are on the National Assembly for Wales.”
Natural Resources minister Carl Sargeant said the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act will help “pave the way to achieving the low carbon economy and resilience within Wales that we need for a prosperous future,” and said an Environment Bill in the coming weeks will introduce statutory climate change targets and a new carbon budgeting regime.
“The biggest and most emotive problems we now face in relation to Opencast Mining in Wales are a direct result of the actions of the John Major government who privatised the coal industry, without adequate consideration of the future effects on our communities here in Wales.
“The results of this ill-conceived, market-driven policy have wrought uncertainty and environmental blight on communities across Wales, and we now find ourselves in a very difficult position where financial bonding provisions to restore sites, are in several cases inadequate.
“We acknowledge and understand the strength of feeling with regard to this issue and will continue to act in the best interests of the people of Wales and the specific communities directly affected.”