The government has come under attack from its own climate change advisors about the decision to allow a new deep coal mine to be built in Cumbria.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) cited the projected 0.4Mt of annual CO2 emissions from the mine as contradicting the already wildly insufficient commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. It would be the first new deep coal mine in 30 years in the UK, bucking the recent trend against coal, and particularly damaging to attempts to greenwash the Tory government ahead of hosting COP26.
On the other side of the North, recent victories for climate campaigners had led many to think that new coal was well and truly off the agenda. Infamous Banks Mining Group had three developments rejected in 2020, to extend their Bradley open cast mine in County Durham; and build new ones at Druridge Bay in Northumberland and Dewley Hill, on the edge of Newcastle.
In each case, opposition came predominantly from community groups formed around protecting the local environment, with support from the Green Party, and the local youth climate strike group, who focussed on the larger climate crisis.
The new proposal shows the limitations of localised defence campaigns. Companies use a phony "internationalism" to justify the climate impact, claiming they are cutting emissions that would otherwise be produced from importing coal. The promise of “local jobs” still holds appeal in areas blighted by unemployment. Unite’s national officer for construction, Jerry Swain, has led the union’s efforts for new coal mines to be opened.
In reality, the proposed developments offer a small number of jobs in a completely unstable industry, that is almost guaranteed to be phased out rapidly: campaigning for such jobs, rather than stable jobs in green, socially-useful production, reflects the defeatism ingrained in labour movement bureaucrats.
Whilst “ecological socialism” is in trend with groups like Labour for a Green New Deal and Jamie Driscoll’s North of Tyne mayoral authority, these groups should use their trade union work to change union policy, rather than just making concessions.
We need to engage the rank and file of these unions, offering an alternative vision of large scale investment in green infrastructure, retraining, and job guarantees. Whilst localised environmental campaigns might win some battles, we need a mass socialist movement to win the ecological war.