Climate Action Day: A Just Transition from Coal Where No One is Left Behind | WWF
Climate Action Day: A Just Transition from Coal Where No One is Left Behind

Posted on 30 November 2019

Decarbonisation policies and measures may in fact become the driving force for sustainable economic growth and social progress.
Every region and every community is different. As EU countries wake up to the climate emergency and the need for a swift transition to a sustainable and carbon-neutral society, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need regional and community-level transition strategies to ensure that no one is left behind. Indeed, the UN Paris Climate Agreement itself recognises this. The countries in the Danube Basin, Green Heart of Europe are no exception.

Phasing out fossil fuel-based electricity generation, especially coal, is a prerequisite for fulfilling the European Union’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and the leadership role the EU strives to have in global climate policy. Not all regions will automatically benefit from the transition to net-zero emissions. However, with proactive and inclusive management, the transition can be a driver for sustainable economic development and social progress everywhere. Such a major change must be accompanied by a comprehensive Just Transition strategy aiming at minimising hardships for workers and their communities in the associated industries through active political and financial support, as well as shifting local economies towards sustainable economic activities.
A Just Transition from Coal in Eastern and Southern Europe Project
The goal of this project is to develop tailor-made transition strategies away from coal and towards sustainable economic activities to economically transform specific regions in Bulgaria (Southwest Bulgaria), Greece (Western Macedonia), and Poland (Silesia). The work is being supported by best practice examples from Germany. A key message is to make the stakeholders from Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, as well as Germany and Brussels recognise “just transition” as a fully legitimate part of climate change policy.
WWF’s call for a just transition to a sustainable and carbon-neutral society by 2050 and a New Deal for Nature and People requires action and engagement from all stakeholders to develop and implement bespoke economic diversification and transition plans. To ensure public acceptance and transparency, the project includes capacity-building workshops in Bulgaria, Greece and Poland to engage local stakeholders, trade unions, journalists and civil society organisations, as well as relevant regional, national, and EU decision-makers. Study trips for relevant stakeholders are organised in each of the four countries to learn about the regional challenges and experiences with transition so far, and to meet local stakeholders. The study trips catalyse cross-fertilisation of ideas amongst the stakeholders from the different regions. Moreover, a range of advocacy activities are being conducted towards national and EU institutions with the objective of raising awareness on just transition among policy makers so as to make it an appropriately funded, integral component of national and European climate policy.
Signs of Change
On October 16 in Brussels, a group of 41 mayors from 10 coal regions in 9 European countries launched  a statement supporting a just transition to the post-coal era, including mayors from Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Two of the mayors presented this statement to the EU Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Energy, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt at the meeting of the EU “Coal Regions in Transition Platform.” The Platform aims to help regions overcome their dependence on coal by developing sustainable economic activities.
A recent study by WWF-Bulgaria in the southwest coal region in Bulgaria provides 3 scenarios for possible development of the region. The study will become the basis for an active public discussion that will catalyse solutions based on the region’s advantages. They should overcome the gradual depopulation and depersonalization of the territory and should lead to the formation of prosperous and attractive areas for the development of sustainable economic activities. Decarbonisation policies and measures may in fact become the driving force for sustainable economic growth and social progress. This can be done with the active participation of the employees and workers who are most directly affected.

The analysis is an attempt to plan the future of coal regions in Bulgaria and to serve as a tool for policy planning and long-term strategic decision-making first in the districts of Pernik, Kyustendil, Blagoevgrad and Sofia (without the city of Sofia); mainly in the municipalities of Bobov Dol (Bobovdol field) and Pernik (Pernik field), as well as the already non-operational Simitli (Pirin field) and Gotse Delchev (Kanina mine)
The Energy Situation
The total coal reserves in Southwest Bulgaria are estimated to be small, consisting predominantly of lignite. Struma Province contains 85% of the lignite deposits and reserves in Bulgaria. The area includes the Bobovdol field, Pernik field and Pirin field. There are two operational thermal power plants (TPPs) in the region. Closing down TPP Bobov Dol (Bobov Dol municipality and TPP Republika (Pernik municipality) will leave an annual 903,781 MWh energy gap that will need to be filled by alternative sustainable sources.
Economic Alternatives
There are over 150 protected areas of all types in Southwest Bulgaria, including two of the country’s three national parks: Rila NationalPark (the largest in Bulgaria) and Pirin National Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). These conditions favour the development of various forms of tourism, organic farming, organic stock-breeding, sustainable forestry and fishing. Moving in this direction would also comply with the desire that economic activities should be compatible with the conservation of valuable species, habitats and nature in general. This fact should be a prerequisite for a sustainable future and be taken into account when deciding on alternative economic investments in the region.
Scenarios Outlined in the Study
  • Scenario 1: Maintaining the Status Quo is extremely insufficient to bring about changes in the socio-economic situation of the region, the demographic trends and the investment climate. It could ultimately lead to an unplanned closure of the energy and coal industry in its present form, a situation which does not meet the objectives of a just transition to a clean energy economy. Therefore Scenario 1 is not recommended.
  • Scenario 2: based on the Internal Opportunities and Advantages of the region provides for economic and territorial transformation. This transformation must overcome the extraction and burning of coal, but at the same time should preserve the regional economy. This comes close to the goals of just transition.
  • Scenario 3: A “Creative Upgrade” with the participation of foreign investors is the most favourable for the region. The scenario envisages complete economic and territorial transformation, overcoming the negative demographic trends and establishing a favourable investment climate  – factors that can lead to the achievement of a just transition.
The present analysis is not a panacea; it does not discuss all the possible solutions, nor does it propose all possible measures and actions that could be taken. Their number cannot be exhausted within a single document. Nevertheless, it is a necessary begin the process of transition to a clean energy economy in order to create new growth. Regardless of which route will be chosen, it will be long and will require the efforts not only of those directly employed in the coal mining and coal burning sector, but also of the state, business, trade unions, regions and the non-governmental sector.
Meanwhile, while not part of the WWF project, the CEE Bankwatch Network supported local residents in Slovakia to get a Just Transition plan for the Slovak Upper Nitra coal region approved in June, 2019. The local community had been working to prepare their inputs and scenarios for the transformation of the region since 2018. CEE Bankwatch says that while the plan rejects Hornonitrianske bane Prievidza’s (HBP) scheme to open a new mine at the Novaky Coal Complex, and local input has resulted in a plan that aims for “developing economic activities in symbiosis with a clean environment,” it fails to set a clear date for the phase-out of coal in Slovakia. If the Action Plan had contained clear commitments to put an end to coal, Slovakia could have become a true model of good practice for Central and Eastern Europe and show how other coal regions in neighbouring countries could transition away from coal in a participatory manner.  Without a coal phase-out, however, the plans for carbon neutrality are more difficult to implement. The organisation says that the Slovak Government should muster the courage to set a deadline for coal. This would be the definitive sign that the Action Plan is taken seriously and will be implemented. Even so, it is a true victory for local communities in the Upper Nitra.
Next Steps
In order to assist regional and national authorities develop strategies for, and implementing a just transition at the regional level, guidelines in the form of Seven Golden Rules were identified by the partners of the Europe Beyond Coal Network. The full implementation of these rules will ensure effective stakeholder participation in the process of selecting and implementing projects, without which the transition strategies will be much less effective, or could even be counterproductive. Applying these rules will be important to enable a speedy, socially-just regional transformation beyond coal in line with the EU's obligations under the UN Paris Climate Agreement. We call on the European Commission to adopt these guidelines to ensure a just and sustainable transition for all.
Just Transition in Eastern and Southern Europe contributes to local development in the target regions by having a positive in all the important aspects of the transition process – social, economic and environmental. The project is funded through the European Climate Initiative (EUKI) of the German Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
For more information:
Georgi Stefanov
Chief Climate and Energy Expert, WWF-Bulgaria
Tel: +359 889 517 976
Email: /  
Skype: zoro_stefano
Republic Thermal Power Plant, Bulgaria
© WWF-Bulgaria