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Boris Johnson has suggested that Britain should start mining and burning its own coal again, despite the climate emergency.

The prime minister said it “makes no sense” for Britain to be importing coal from abroad for use in steelmaking “when we have our own domestic resources”.

While the UK has largely abandoned coal for for power generation, slashing CO2 emissions, it still uses some in steelmaking, where the substance is harder to cut out.

During an exchange at prime minister’s questions Chris Green, the Conservative MP for Bolton West, said he had “concerns about the ethics of holding back British industry and exporting and magnifying our carbon emissions overseas”.

Responding, prime minister Mr Johnson said: “I think we can we can all be proud of the way we’ve reduced CO2 emissions in this country, but plainly it makes no sense to be importing coal, particularly for metallurgical purposes, where we have our own domestic resources.”

His comments come after a row over the potential opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria. The proposed pit would mine coal for the steel industry, but 85 per cent of it is expected to be exported.

There are currently no deep coal mines left in operation in the UK, though some open pits are still in operation.

Environmentalists point out that every extra tonne of coal on the world market will also tend to drive down its price and drive up emissions, no matter where it is used.

To met net zero emissions targets to avert catastrophic climate change, steelmaking must phase out ordinary coal use by 2035, but the technology to do so it at a relatively early stage.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “The Prime Minister is simply wrong: opening new UK coal mines makes no sense for energy security or tackling the climate crisis.

“A new mine in Cumbria would have little impact on coal imports. Steelmakers use a blend of different coals so they would still have to import the majority of their coal. And one of the two blast furnace sites in the UK– British Steel in Scunthorpe – has expressed doubts about whether it can use Cumbrian coal.

“The UK steel industry says it isn’t lobbying for a new mine. It knows its future lies in moving away from coal to low carbon steel-making – something that’s already happening in Europe. “Only a few months ago, the Prime Minister was sounding the death knell for coal. If his government approves the new mine, its climate reputation would be ruined.

“Green steel is the future. It’s time to leave coal in the ground where it belongs.”