So much for the government’s efforts to position itself as a global climate leader. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has said he is “obsessed” with what can be achieved at COP26, and the UK has campaigned against coal internationally as co-chair of the Powering Past Coal Alliance.
These contradictions are emblematic of the government’s climate policy, but in this case there is also likely to have been pressure from within the Conservative Party. Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, who is Johnson’s personal private secretary, is a vocal supporter of the mine.
Harrison, along with several other MPs who won seats in former Labour strongholds in 2017 and 2019, is a member of the Blue Collar Conservatives, who are keen to deliver on the promise to “level up” their regions through investment and jobs. The offer of a few hundred jobs and the chance to restore a proud historical identity associated with coal seems too good to pass up.
This point should not be lost on those opposing the mine, or on progressive forces hoping to mobilise in regions that stand to lose most from efforts to decarbonise our economy. In the UK’s industrial heartlands, jobs in high-carbon sectors like energy are relatively well paid, secure and unionised. It’s no surprise these are highly sought-after when the alternative is often low-paid, precarious work in the service sector – much of which has been decimated by the pandemic.
But it is dishonest to pit climate against jobs. The mine plans to provide coking coal for the steel industry, despite the climate change committee’s position that coal must be phased out of steel manufacturing by 2035. If the UK follows the committee’s path to net zero, the new mine would be left high and dry and the jobs would disappear. And thousands of job losses are expected over the next decade as Sellafield nuclear site – one of the area’s largest employers – moves into decommissioning.
Yet the government has presented no alternative vision for good, green jobs that could give workers and communities the opportunities they need, while fighting the climate crisis. The Institute of Public Policy Research estimates that 1.6 million good quality green jobs could be created over the next decade as part of a green COVID-19 recovery package.
One conservative estimate suggests West Cumbria alone could see 2,600 transitional and 1,350 long-term jobs created in green industries such as retrofitting, renewables and public transport, plus many thousands more in inherently low-carbon and socially valuable jobs like care and education.Print