The Guardian view on Johnson’s coalmine: political gain at planetary cost | Editorial
The Biden administration is calling out politicians, like the prime minister, who pay lip service to the climate emergency while peddling greenwash policies
It must have seemed a clever Johnsonian ruse. Build a deep coalmine – the first in decades – in Labour’s historical heartland and put yourself on the side of working-class northern voters who want jobs and against environmentalists who, one could slyly suggest, prefer saving the planet than local communities. Boris Johnson thought, no doubt, with a cunning that has wrongfooted many opponents, that he could frame the argument in such terms and still meet his “net zero” targets because the vast majority of Cumbrian coal would end up for export rather than domestic use (it’s too sulphurous to be used to make steel in Britain). The result is that the greenhouse gas emissions would end up on some other nation’s books when carbon budgets were calculated. Not dissimilar to his view of cake, Mr Johnson was saying that his policy on coal is “pro having it and pro heating it”.
The problem for Mr Johnson was that the Biden administration was having none of it. The US had the good sense to understand the implications if Britain was allowed to press ahead with a plan to dig out coal and send it abroad without busting its own carbon budget. If everyone took the same view, the world would be toast. The US reasons that if jobs are the issue, then use state investment in green technologies for coal-free steel. Within days of John Kerry, the US climate envoy, warning Mr Johnson that coal has no future, the government conceded it would be “calling in” the planning application for the Cumbrian mine. Importantly Mr Johnson would not be shamed into a U-turn in the run-up to the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.