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UK ‘wrongfooted’ on Cumbria coal mine, says former climate secretary Rudd ahead of Biden ‘leaders’ summit’

The UK is showing climate leadership but has been “wrongfooted” in some areas including on controversial plans to build a new coal mine in Cumbria, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said during a panel discussion on the US’s upcoming “Leaders’ Summit”.

During the discussion, Ms Rudd rejected the suggestion that Joe Biden’s administration was taking the climate crisis more seriously than Boris Johnson’s government, but said the UK was making progress in other areas, saying “it’s swings and roundabouts”.

Ms Rudd, who was also secretary of state for climate change and led the UK delegation at Cop21 when the Paris Agreement was drawn up, was speaking to journalists during an event to discuss expectations, leadership roles and ambitions of countries attending the leaders summit on 22 and 23 April.

The summit marks the US return to the world stage on the issue of climate, following Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris agreement.

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The Biden administration has said the aim of the virtual meeting is to galvanise the ambitions of major economies to tackle the climate crisis.

Meanwhile US climate envoy John Kerry has also been on a major diplomatic tour including to European countries and China in an attempt to build momentum towards this year’s series of international meetings, which as well as next week’s leaders’ summit, includes the G7 meeting in Cornwall in June, and the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow in November.

“The US needs to show leadership, they are reversing the position they’ve held since Trump got elected, so it’s absolutely right they go out there and make a big song and dance about how their position has completely changed,” Ms Rudd told journalists.

Asked by The Independent if the UK had undermined its credibility by its actions over the mine in Cumbria and other recent policies such as the cut on tax for domestic flights, Ms Rudd said: “I have been pleasantly surprised by the scale of the UK’s ambition and the announcements – I give by example the internal combustion engine, which is going by 2030. Even the people I knew who were still MPs and close to government were surprised it was brought forward to that date.

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“If you’d said in 2015 that the UK would ban the internal combustion engine by 2030, you would have got a lot of laughter in response.”

“So I think the UK is showing leadership. Sure, there are areas where it is being wrongfooted, and I think the Cumbrian coalmine has been one of them.

She added: “But it’s been suspended for now. So that is one step forward.”

If it goes ahead, the controversial Woodhouse Colliery in Cumbria will extract coking coal for the steel industry, and up to 80 per cent of the coal will be exported to Europe.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, has twice declined to call in the plans for review, but amid international pressure – largely from the US – the British government changed tack.

A public inquiry into the Woodhouse Colliery was announced last month, after growing anger over the environmental impact of the mine.

Ms Rudd also said there are “other areas where we’re doing well”, including on climate finance commitment, but she also said, “on the other hand we have cut overseas development aid, so it’s swings and roundabouts”.

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“Overall, I can plainly see that the UK is stepping up to this leadership role in a way that I hadn’t expected in a way that will benefit us all,” she said.

The meeting was hosted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.