Report: Cumbria can create 9,000 green jobs by 2035, without a coal mine

Proponents of Cumbria's proposed coal mine often point to its potential to create 500 new roles. But the county could create thousands of jobs and attract billions of pounds of investment if it opts, instead, to expand low-carbon sectors.

Pictured: The coastline in Whitehaven, Cumbria

Pictured: The coastline in Whitehaven, Cumbria

That is according to a new report today (12 March) from local organisation Cumbria Action for Sustainability.

The report outlines how 9,000 jobs could be created across the county in low-carbon sectors including renewable electricity generation and distribution; renewable heat; retrofitting buildings and sustainable waste management by 2035. Around half of these roles, the report stipulates, would be based in West Cumbria, where the UK’s first deep coal mine in more than three decades has been proposed.

Of the 9,000 roles, renewable energy generation and infrastructure account for the biggest proportion – more than two-thirds. The report states that Cumbria could rapidly expand its onshore and offshore wind sectors, as well as solar, tidal and hydro, with the right support from government and the private sector.

Authors of the report have been keen to emphasise that green jobs across the region will, by and large, be more permanent than those in extractives, which, by their very nature, have a finite lifespan. Most of the 9,000 roles will continue to exist after 2035 and, thereafter, an additional 3,800 roles could be created in supporting sectors like energy, the built environment and transport.

Cumbria Action for Sustainability believes that the county could attract £8.8bn of investment in low-carbon sectors through to 2025, while also reducing its annual energy costs by £854m.

“High-quality, long-term and environmentally sustainable jobs could help the region recover from decades of neglect, exacerbated by the pandemic,” Cumbria Action for Sustainability’s chief executive Karen Mitchell said. “But for Cumbria to realise this potential requires a steadfast commitment to the green industries and technologies of the future.”

The UK Government is notably targeting two million “green-collar” jobs by 2030 and is aiming to create these roles, in collaboration with the private sector, in alignment with its commitment to “level up” regions.

Update on the Whitehaven coal mine

The publication of the report comes in the same week that West Cumbria Mining (WCM), the business applying for planning permission for the mine at Whitehaven, confirmed it will take legal action in response to Cumbria County Council’s decision to reconsider the project.

Councillors confirmed in February that the plans, which had been approved late last year, had been shelved, in light of the publication of the Climate Change Committee’s advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget.

The CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget advice charts a pathway for the UK to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, against a 1990 baseline. In comparison, the original Climate Change Act required the UK to deliver an 80% reduction by 2050, against the same baseline. The CCC is imploring the UK to “front-load” decarbonisation on the road to net-zero to minimise costs. The Council believes that the mine may be incompatible with this pathway.

WCM has begun the formal process required to trigger a Judicial Review into Cumbria County Council’s decision. In a statement, the company said that it “strongly believes that the decision to return this to Committee again, at the eleventh hour and after comprehensive, extensive and prolonged consultation and consideration, cannot be justified”.

The business case for the mine is largely based on arguments that the coal produced will be used exclusively in the steel sector for coking, so it is compatible with the UK’s 2024 ban on coal-fired electricity generation. WCM has been keen to argue that the mine will minimise the UK’s need to import coking coal from abroad, thus incurring greater transport emissions, but this claim has been disputed by green groups and MPs including Ed Miliband.

While the mine has proven controversial, attracting criticism from national and international green groups – largely for the message it sends ahead of COP26 as well as its direct environmental impact – it has proven popular with locals due to the job creation prospect.

Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie recently told the BBC: “I've never known a project that has carried so much public support."

Sarah George



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