Climate = jobs. Right?
The Cumbria coal row is the new politics of climate change writ small.
During the last economic downturn, David Cameron flung himself from "Vote Blue, Go Green" to "cut the green crap!", fearful that the climate agenda would be ridiculed as a luxury we cannot afford in belt-tightening times.
Perched on the precipice of the next economic crisis, today a new consensus has formed; the so-called 'green crap' is actually new industry and jobs, and heralds a pathway to economic recovery. In the face of rising Covid costs and scary unemployment projections, this new consensus has been fundamental to sustaining political enthusiasm for ambitious climate action. "Levelling up" and "Net Zero" are seen as two sides of the same coin.
The editor of Con Home, Paul Goodman, described it as "cynical politics", saying:
"To make a complex story simple, green technologies mean subsidies, subsidies mean jobs, and MPs want those jobs for their constituents. Who can blame them? Hence the rush of articles on this site, more numerous by our count than on any other subject, from backbench MPs making the case for green technologies that will mean “green jobs” in their seats."
But what happens when a firm offers to create 500 new jobs by opening a coal mine in an economically disadvantaged part of the country? We climate folk find ourselves once again positioned in the media as against jobs and growth in an electorally-significant community that is crying out for more work, while even green-minded MPs find themselves torn between a pro-climate and pro-jobs position.
It doesn’t really matter that supporters of the mine are wrongly claiming the coal is needed for British steel production, when in fact 85% is intended for export, or that there’s also strong local opposition; the furore is spotlighting the gaps in our plan for a green future.
Study after study has shown the potential for millions of new jobs from the transition. But against a backdrop of wage stagnation and a looming unemployment crisis, we have to go beyond abstract macroeconomics and political promises, and get real and granular.
What specific job opportunities will the transition to zero emissions create? Where will the jobs be? What skills and training will they require? How much will they pay? And how secure will they be? We’re seeing some of this brought to life in the wind factories in Grimsby and the new battery factory at Blyth. Money is starting to flow to Teeside and Humber for carbon capture and storage (CCS), too. What about Cumbria?
One beautiful irony of the fight over the coal mine is the fresh interest it is prompting in green steel production. Coal-free primary production of steel is around the corner thanks to hydrogen and CCS technologies. Only this week a firm announced a second green steel production facility in Sweden, following another project in Germany. Workers in South Wales want a project like this too. As four of the five biggest steel producers in the world prepare for the inevitable shift in the industry, jobs and investment could flow to places like Port Talbot and Scunthorpe. President of Liberty Steel told Politico, "The right way is to tackle the problem as early as possible — not to wait to be the last ones”. Similarly, the owner of the Scunthrope steel facility told The Telegraph they are ready to invest billions at the facility but need quick clarity from Downing Street over the future of UK steel policy.
Meanwhile, the arrival of green steel will mean Cumbrian coal miners will be left without long-term job security and investors will lose their money. The intense damage to the environment will have largely been for nothing.
Downing Street could use next week's budget to spend some of the several hundred millions they announced for green steel but never actually invested. Securing this funding will be a win for the climate = jobs argument. (Yes, even in the case of the Cumbrian mine.)
COP26: what is it good for?
Britain has never before hosted a UN climate summit, and this week it really showed.
On Wednesday, MPs were given half an hour to quiz the new COP26 President, Alok Sharma, about preparations for the Glasgow talks. Almost all questions were parochial in nature, directed towards domestic environmental issues that will never be of global importance.
This is all well and good, you might think. After all, it’s fair for the host country to use such an event to pursue long-sought policies that show it’s walking the talk. But it doesn’t account for the gaping hole in understanding and perspective about what a COP is and what needs to happen in November. We can be sure that whether home insulation schemes or investment in bus services go ahead in England will not be the critical test of success.
The true measure of a “good” COP26 will be the extent to which the gap is closed between the goal of climate safety set out in the Paris Agreement and what we’re globally on track to deliver. Ultimately, as I wrote last time, and as Ed Miliband highlighted this week, that means a better deal on finance, debt and aid.
It's not looking good when even countries like Japan and New Zealand are bringing nothing new to the table. On the upside, next month China and the EU will co-host a climate summit, and on April 22nd President Biden will get all the big economies back around the table as he unveils what the United States will do in the coming decade. These may help to close the gap some more.
"The combined emissions cuts of the new pledges are only around 3% lower by 2030 than the previous round of pledges submitted by those nations in 2015."
By contrast, according to the IPCC, a 45% reduction in global CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2030 is required to meet the temperature goal of 1.5C – and a 25% reduction is needed to stay below 2C of global warming.
It's time to get MPs seeing this big picture.