Targeting insurers to end fossil fuels

How do we stop the West Cumbria coal mine? Finance, law and workers’ organising on jobs.

The jobswashing strategy works by depicting climate activists’ demands as inherently hostile to working class interests.

Climate campaigners around the UK took action directed at the Lloyds of London group of insurance companies, demanding that they commit to not insuring the proposed West Cumbria coal mine last month.

The protests, coordinated by the Coal Action Network and Money Rebellion, were part of a day of action targeting fossil fuel finance more widely, kicking off a Global Weekend of Actions to end fossil fuels – fast, fair and forever!

Lloyds of London has a stated policy of not insuring new coal for power stations, but the policy is not binding on its individual managing agents.


Furthermore, of those agents who have committed to no longer insuring new coal for power stations, many have yet to rule out insuring metallurgical coal for blast furnaces – the type of coal which would be mined in West Cumbria. 

It was these insurers that the actions targeted, amongst them TravelersChubbHiscoxArchMarkel and others.

Campaigns targeting insurers have contributed to a significant exodus of insurers from major projects such as the Adani Carmichael coal mining project in Australia and the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). 

At least five insurers -  AEGIS Managing Agency, Argenta Syndicate Management, Argo Managing Agency, Hannover Re and Talanx – have so far announced that they will not underwrite the Cumbria coal mine, with more expected to follow shortly. 

Meanwhile, the Insure Our Future group has found that Lloyds of London insurers are underwriting ten of the biggest US coal mines, equating to 22.8 per cent of US output. 

But campaigns targeting finance – whether insurers, investment banks or pension funds, are growing and will form a crucial plank of the global struggle to be free of fossil fuels and large-scale biomass burning.

The West Cumbria coal mine - legal state of play

The proposed West Cumbria coal mine is planned to produce 2.78 million tonnes of coal per year until 2049, resulting in lifetime emissions of over 220 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. 

The jobswashing strategy works by depicting climate activists’ demands as inherently hostile to working class interests.

It was approved by the secretary of state Michael Gove in December 2022, after a public inquiry the previous year. 

A legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change due to be heard in the High Court in October has been postponed pending the outcome of another case with significant bearing on the potential outcome.

The case in question is a challenge to the decision to approve oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey. Brought by campaigner Sarah Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group, the challenge was heard by the Supreme Court in June, and the outcome is still awaited. 


It turns on whether decision-makers need to take into consideration the downstream emissions - i.e. those produced by burning the oil - before giving planning permission, or need only consider the operating emissions. Clearly, this has major implications for all applications to extract fossil fuels.

Regardless of the inclusion of downstream emissions, West Cumbria Mining’s claim that its production emissions will be 'net zero' depend on the risible greenwashing ploy of purchasing carbon credits as 'offsets' - despite the cited offsetting agents Gold Standard Foundation publicly distancing themselves from the project.

Further arguments for carbon neutrality rest on the notion that the coal would simply “substitute” for coal mined elsewhere in the world and therefore not increase net emissions – a claim for which there is zero evidence.

It is far more reasonable to assume that a new mine will help delay the global phase out of coal from primary steel production and its replacement with the near-zero carbon techniques now available.

Jobswash and the struggle for real climate jobs

Alongside the greenwashing of fossil fuels and biomass burning with false claims of carbon neutrality and unproven, dangerous or inefficient “mitigation” technologies such as carbon capture and storage, we are seeing an onslaught of 'jobswash'. 

This corporate propaganda - sadly also promoted by some sections of our trade unions - seeks to promote resistance to policies for transitioning away from fuels policies by mendaciously associating this with mass job losses.

And new carbon fuel projects come with exaggerated or misleading claims of job creation aimed at winning community support and influencing the calculations of vote-seeking policymakers.

The jobswashing strategy works by depicting climate activists’ demands as inherently hostile to working class interests. Left unchallenged, this framing undermines the possibility of mass organising for real alternatives - for decent work that gives us a real chance of a liveable future. 

Uncontrolled climate chaos is the ultimate, deadly assault on working class lives everywhere, but to build serious resistance we have to go beyond describing the appalling consequences of failing to decarbonise, unpick the false narratives on jobs and focus on the kind of workforce that is really needed to successfully transition.


West Cumbria Mining claims that mine would create “up to” 532 permanent direct jobs, and provide wider benefits to the local economy through indirect and induced jobs - such as jobs generated by increased spending in the local area. 

But as Rebekah Diski from the New Economic Foundation points out in evidence to the public inquiry, there is little in WCM’s application to substantiate these figures. 

Despite WCM’s claims that most jobs will go to local residents, the vast majority of positions require previous experience and skills which few local people possess.

The few local applicants that would be qualified for the roles are likely to be moving from other skilled employment in the area, adding to an existing skills shortage rather than adding to the total number of local jobs.

West Cumbria actually has slightly higher employment rates than the national average. However, what is immediately obvious in the town of Whitehaven is the wide income differentials, largely accounted for by the difference between those who work at Sellafield and those who don’t.


In addition, there is something of an influx of higher-paid workers from elsewhere taking advantage of the ability to work from home. If this demonstrates anything it is that local “induced jobs” generated by the good wages of a minority are often of low quality and are a misleading indicator of wider economic benefit. 

As in so many places where existing high polluting industries are defended or new ones proposed, the key misdirection lies in the failure to provide any comparison scenario, or indeed any wider economic context for job creation projections. 

This is further underpinned by the assumption that only the market  - with strategic subsidies to attract investors - can deliver solutions. 

Alternative possibilities for lifting incomes and generating induced jobs - for example building public services and increasing public sector pay - do not come into the equation in these jobs projections.


The result is tragically foregone opportunities to create skilled jobs that will genuinely help bring carbon emissions down fast whilst delivering other social or environmental benefits. 

study conducted on behalf of Cumbria Action for Sustainability by Opal and Green House Economics found that meeting Cumbria’s “net zero by 2037 target” would require 9,000 “transition” jobs - i.e. for the next 15 years - to be created, of which half would be in West Cumbria (Allerdale and Copeland).

Two thousand permanent jobs could be created for West Cumbria, in sectors such as renewable energy, retrofit and low energy heating, recycling and public transport. 

And this is a conservative estimate: many further jobs are needed in land work of various types, as well as in supply chains for the industries studied. But to optimise green jobs and skills development requires a major extension of public ownership.

Climate Jobs and a National Climate Service

The Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) has produced a pamphlet entitled “Climate Jobs for Cumbria: Building a Cumbrian Workforce for the Climate Emergency” which aims to set our arguments for a National Climate Service (NCS) in the context of the campaign and the local struggle for decent jobs.

The background to this is the booklet produced in 2021 by CACCTU, entitled Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency - itself an update of the earlier One Million Climate Jobs.

This argues the need for the creation of a National Climate Service, bringing both the energy system and large sections of industry, transport etc into public ownership.

A NCS would both recruit and train new workers and guarantee training and redeployment for those whose roles have been phased out, to build the huge workforce that is necessary to make the structural changes needed to slash energy consumption in an equitable way.


A high level of integration of sectors is needed to eliminate fossil fuels in tandem with building out renewables, strengthening transmission and storage systems, avoiding supply chain and skills bottle necks, recycling materials to minimise environmentally damaging extraction, decarbonising essential industries such as steel making and drastically cutting the energy needs of buildings and transport.

A NCS could support that integration, directing public investment and training where it’s needed and avoiding the inefficiency and incoherence of the current government approach.

And for workers, it could provide fair, unionised work, strengthened collective bargaining, guarantees of supported training and redeployment where needed without loss of pay and conditions, and democratic involvement in planning drawing on their existing skills and experience, and knowledge of the needs of their local communities. 

Achieving this implies cross-sector collaborations between as well as within unions, to proactively develop coherent transition plans and build mass support for them.


This may seem ambitious, but momentum is building behind these ideas, and we have no time to lose. As a start, workers can join - or initiate - caucuses or networks within their own unions, get involved with campaigns that put a worker-led just transition at their heart, and discuss the need for worker organising on climate jobs at every opportunity in their branches, workplaces and communities.

Campaigners and supporters from a range of groups and organisations opposing the mine come together every few weeks for a Speakers Corner on the site of the proposed mine, and climate jobs and the role of organised workers is a key topic.

Local people are welcome and will be given space to express their views and experiences regardless of their opinion on the mine. The next Speakers Corner will be at 12noon on Tuesday 24 October 2023. 

You can also join the CACCTU mailing list at; and sign up to the newsletter of Greener Jobs Alliance. We Make Tomorrow - “a conference to build workers power on climate and crisis” – takes place on Saturday 25 November 2023.

This Author

Ellen Robottom is the secretary of The Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group.