Boris Johnson will be ‘vilified’ over new coal mine ahead of international climate summit, warns former Nasa scientist

PM showing ‘contemptuous disregard of the future’, says world-leading climate expert James Hansen

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 04 February 2021 14:18 GMT
Boris Johnson risks ‘humiliation’ over new coal mine, Dr Hansen warns
Boris Johnson risks ‘humiliation’ over new coal mine, Dr Hansen warns (Getty)

Boris Johnson is at risk of being “vilified in the streets of Glasgow, London and around the world”, if the UK government continues with plans to allow the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria, leading climate scientist James Hansen, formerly Nasa’s top global warming researcher, has warned.

The mine will provide coking coal, mostly for export to Europe, and also for steel manufacture in the UK. It was given the go-ahead by Cumbria County Council, and the government’s Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick did not use his power to overrule the decision. 

But ahead of the UK hosting the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, outrage over the plans to allow the new coal mine is growing and threatening to undermine any leadership Britain may be able to muster on tackling the climate crisis.

The letter, which Dr Hansen also copied to US climate envoy John Kerry, will make uncomfortable reading for Mr Johnson.

Dr Hansen has been highly influential in sounding the global alarm over anthropogenic emissions, and is a revered figure in climate science.

His letter reads: “Prime Minister Johnson, young people are fed up – and for good reason. They demand that political leaders follow the science and take the actions needed to preserve and restore a healthy climate. If this COP is like the prior ones – with soothing words and worthless ambitions – they will be justifiably outraged. 

“In leading the UK, as host to the COP, you have a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory, earning the UK and yourself historic accolades – or you can stick with business-almost-as-usual and be vilified in the streets of Glasgow, London, and around the world. It would be easy to achieve this latter ignominy and humiliation. 

“Just continue with the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria and continue to invest funds of the British public in fossil fuel projects overseas, in contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature.” 

He added: “The contrary path is not so easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic. And by providing the acumen and gumption required to change our course, you will earn a special place in history and the gratitude of young people.”

The £165m mine will extract 2.78 million tonnes of coal a year up to 2049, with 85 per cent exported to Europe – and was approved by Cumbria County Council in October. 

The government declined to “call in” or overrule the decision, saying it was a local matter, but opponents to the plans – including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and a number of Cumbrian campaign groups – have questioned how something that will increase global pollution can be considered a local issue.

Friends of the Earth coal campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “The mounting criticism over the government’s coal mine decision is completely justified. This new mine completely undermines Boris Johnson’s credibility ahead of this year’s crucial climate summit. The Prime Minister must think again – and consign UK coal to the history books where it belongs.”

The government’s own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, has said the mine would compromise the country’s aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and has already warned giving it the green light will undermine leadership of the vital COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Dr Hansen’s letter concludes: “Prime Minister Johnson, your actions and decisions now will either establish or undermine your claim to climate leadership. The upcoming UN climate conference will be an excellent venue for you to display your commitment.”

The Independent has contacted the government for comment.

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