More than 9,000 green jobs could be created in Cumbria, according to a report, far more than the 500 jobs promised by a planned coalmine in the county.
The report was published the day after the communities secretary reversed his original decision that the mine did not conflict with national policy and was a local matter. Robert Jenrick cited rising controversy and new climate advice as reasons for the U-turn.
The government had been criticised by its own climate advisers and leading scientists for failing to block the coalmine, which would produce fuel for steel production rather than electricity generation.
Critics said the pit plan seriously undermined the UK’s leadership as it prepares to host a crucial UN climate summit in November. There will now be a public inquiry but it is unclear whether the final decision will be made before the UN summit.
The report said the green jobs in Cumbria would mostly result from a quadrupling of renewable energy and energy efficiency overhauls of 90% of buildings over the next 15 years. All seven councils in Cumbria have pledged to become carbon neutral and a target to be net zero by 2037 has been set by the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership, which is co-chaired by the county council.
Creating the jobs would require many billions of pounds in investment, but the report’s backers said the government’s commitment to a green industrial revolution and to levelling up less affluent parts of the country could support this.
“We have a global responsibility to do our bit,” said Karen Mitchell, the chief executive of Cumbria Action for Sustainability, the organisation that commissioned the report. “The coalmine is just looking backwards: why invest in that instead of in new technologies that have a longer-term future?”
She added: “We’re in a climate emergency and Cumbria is often at the frontline of that.” The county has been hit by the worst flooding in centuries in recent years, with scientists finding the 2015 floods were made significantly more likely by global heating.
Mitchell said she understood the need for jobs in the county, some parts of which are among the poorest in England. But she said green jobs bring additional benefits such as cutting people’s heating bills, reducing air pollution and boosting healthy travel such as cycling: “There are lots of co-benefits that you don’t get when you’re sending people down a deep dark hole.”
Prof Rebecca Willis from the University of Lancaster said: “The Whitehaven coalmine proposals are totally at odds with UK climate legislation. Cumbria shouldn’t be chasing dirty jobs with no future, it should be working with government to bring green investment to an area that really needs it.”
Cumbria council approved the mine in October. But as the backlash grew, the council said in February it would reconsider the decision in order to take into account climate advice published in December by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the same advice now cited by Jenrick.