Summary

Summary: A Just Transition of European coal regions

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Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

Reaching climate neutrality by 2050 as envisioned by the European Commission’s strategic long-term vision requires timely decarbonisation of the European energy sector, including a phase-out of coal. This will particularly affect regions which are dependent on the coal sector and other high-carbon industries, as they will have to transition to low-carbon economies in the coming decades.

This briefing offers a deep dive into the positioning of key stakeholders as well as opportunities and challenges for a transition away from coal in some of Europe’s most coal-dependent regions: Ústecký kraj (Czech Republic), Western Macedonia (Greece), Upper Silesia (Poland), Horná Nitra (Slovakia) and Obilić (Kosovo). It aims to serve as background for necessary political and policy decisions surrounding a phase-out from coal.

In all these countries, coal is a central part of the energy mix, but coal production has already been in decline due to decreasing economic competitiveness. While none of the countries has set a phase-out date for coal, some are already preparing the transition away from coal.

In nearly all these regions, it is local actors that are driving the transition, while national governments remain committed to coal as an energy source and maintain close ties to the coal industry. While transition strategies benefit from being driven by local stakeholders, guidance and policy frameworks from the national level are key as they provide stability and enable long-term planning.

Among civil society voices, labour unions tend to be vocal opponents of measures that could impact the coal sector and are often well connected with the government. Environmental NGOs in all these regions support the transition away from coal and in some instances are proposing how a transition away from coal could happen, but their influence in most countries is limited.

Renewable industries exist in all countries covered but their development is hampered by an uncertain investment climate and they are politically weak with little influence on the regulatory framework and other measures to support a transition beyond coal.

The EU has a central role in supporting these processes. Kosovo and other countries of the Western Balkan have the perspective to join the EU and as part of the Energy Community they are already influenced by the Unions climate and energy policy. In its Member States, the EU sets targets for national climate and energy policy and with the EU budget it has a powerful tool at hand to support a transition away from coal. The current negotiations over the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period provide an important opportunity to align the budget more closely with a Just Transition to a climate neutral economy. Moreover, all coal regions, with the exception of Kosovan Obilić, are pilot regions of the EU’s Coal Regions in Transition Platform. This engagement may foster a Just Transition but only if it is organised in an inclusive way for all local stakeholders, in particular those who are a driving force for a transition.

You can read the full analysis, A Just Transition of European coal regions: assessing stakeholder postions towards the transition away from coal, here.