EU coal regions share just transition needs despite their differences | WWF
EU coal regions share just transition needs despite their differences

Posted on 19 February 2020

Ending coal, financial support, and consultation are crucial
Europe’s coal regions may be diverse and far apart, but there are steps that are essential to all for a socially just transition away from coal, new WWF analysis shows 

WWF analysed four coal regions in depth, in Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and Greece. Based on this, WWF identifies setting a deadline for ending coal, targeted financial support, and giving everyone their say as crucial for a sustainable regional shift towards climate neutrality.

The new report comes as the EU prepares to discuss its proposed ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ to help regions get climate-neutral by leveraging EUR100 billion. The report and accompanying short film are being launched at WWF’s just transition event in Brussels on 19 February.

Juliette de Grandpré, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF Germany said:
“Coal regions have contributed to Europe’s prosperity for decades. We need to make sure Europe’s transition towards a net zero emissions economy does not happen at the expense of these regions. Local and national authorities have a key role to play and need to talk to those affected and ensure the right financial and policy support is there to allow a smooth path to a net zero emissions economy based on sustainable jobs for all.”

Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office said:
“Getting the just transition right in our coal mining regions is one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – of the next decade. Europe must prove its commitment to social justice - from committing to rapidly end coal, to providing financial support - to ensure we all move together to climate neutrality before mid-century.”

WWF’s report looks at the Ruhr region of Germany, Western Macedonia in Greece, Upper Silesia in Poland, and the South West region of Bulgaria. These regions are at different stages of the transition - coal mining phase-out in the Ruhr had been planned for decades, whereas in South West Bulgaria, no planning is in place and the region is being left behind. However, following the report’s EU and regional policy recommendations can help ensure a successful, socially responsible and sustainable move to net zero carbon emissions across Europe’s coal regions. 

Read the report
Watch the short documentary from the four regions
More on the 19 February event in Brussels

More information: 

WWF’s recommendations in more detail

Set a phase-out date for coal as early as possible, followed by an agreed and consensual, timeline based transition strategy 
Setting a clear timeline with a binding and ambitious phase-out date for coal provides certainty to investors; avoiding the creation of stranded assets and lowering the overall costs of the transition

Ensure timelines and strategies are based on high-quality, quantitative analysis, guided by a commitment to sustainability
To be meaningful, effective and have the greatest chance of success, just transition strategies and plans should be informed by quantified, transparent and objective analysis. They should also be formulated with the aim to achieve true environmental sustainability in order to ensure that the transition is durable.

Ensure adequate, targeted financial and policy support for the transition using EU as well as national funds 
The transition requires upfront investment, which cannot always be made by investors alone. Long-term policy support and frameworks, supported by dedicated public financing are necessary to leverage the sustained investment required for a just and sustainable transition.

Aim for real economic diversification 
A diverse collection of smaller businesses and industries provides resilience to economic change, with big economic changes having a lower impact on overall employment and the GDP. Diversification should be on the basis of environmental sustainability to ensure it will deliver long-term, quality jobs

Engage all stakeholders in an ongoing process, especially at local level 
The involvement of local stakeholders can determine whether the transition succeeds or whether it is delayed, resisted and derailed. Local stakeholders and communities are more likely to buy into the strategies and will support their implementation if they were the driving force behind developing them. Local communities have unrivalled insight into their needs and desires, even if on their own they do not have the resources or expertise to actualise them. Failing to involve local communities will risk missing essential information into their needs, desires and strengths and can drive resistance to change.

The four regions in WWF’s report - more info:

The Ruhr in Germany: 
Germany’s coal region ‘par excellence’, it employed 600,000 people at its peak in the 1950s. (The coal also made the air so bad people were advised not to hang their washing outside.) But then as cheaper coal from outside Europe started to take over, the federal government set up a ‘Ruhr Development Programme (EPR) in 1968 for a socially responsible reduction of coal jobs. This was followed by regional funding programmes. The programmes focused on infrastructure and promotion of the scientific landscape, as well as the conversion of former industrial facilities into accommodation and cultural centres, such as the Zollverein in Essen, which is today a World Cultural Heritage Site. In 2007, the german government decided to phase out subsidies and close the last hard coal mine by 2018. This officially sealed the end of hard coal mining in Germany. 

Western Macedonia in Greece:
Since the mid 1950s, lignite (brown coal) mining has been the main economic activity in the area. Unemployment - already high, at 28% - is expected to skyrocket due to the anticipated decommissioning of existing lignite plants: recently, the Greek Prime Minister announced the retirement of all lignite plants by 2028 at the latest. This will be hugely beneficial for public health, the environment and the climate (lignite is responsible for 34% of Greek greenhouse gas emissions). However, it will pose a challenge for the local societies and regional economy if the transition to a sustainable economy is not well designed. 

Silesia in Poland:
Upper Silesia is the biggest hard coal region in Europe, with over 20 active mines and 72,000 direct jobs. However a drastic decline in hard coal extraction is coming for economic reasons, which is why Poland increasingly imports cheaper Russian coal. Cultural attachment to coal legacy is strong: politicians promise to ‘save’ Silesian coal mining to win votes. The challenge in Upper Silesia is about a lack of proper long-term planning, social dialogue and a commitment to phase out coal. Miners and people employed in the coal sector require special focus as approximately 50,000 permanent jobs will be gone within a decade in the region. Failure to address the cultural and social position of coal will have an impact on Poland’s energy transformation and the region’s economy. It will also have severe consequences for coal-mining municipalities and livelihoods of miners and their families.

South-West region of Bulgaria:
Coal production in the South-West region of Bulgaria began to decline in the 1980s because of the depletion of resources. As early as the 1970s, Bulgaria started to develop its other lignite region in the South-East. The underground brown coal mines were closed down at the end of 2018, and the number of employees in the sector is steadily decreasing. However, no investments are being made to diversify the local economy and the industry sector has not been modernised for decades. A successful energy transition in South-West Bulgaria requires the region to develop sustainable economic activities. Reskilling the workforce is a major tool for enhancing and retaining labour force and fighting low income and unemployment in the region. 

Over 40 regions getting active on just transition

Local authorities and leaders have been mobilising themselves to ensure a just transition. In September 2018, a first ‘Forum of Mayors on Just Transition’ took place in Kozani, Greece. This is a bottom-up initiative - initially involving representatives from six Member States - and it aims to enable the sharing of experience and knowledge between those affected by the transformation. This was followed by a second Forum hosted by the mayor of Weißwasser, Germany, in September 2019, attended by 16 European mayors. It was at the second forum that a Declaration was signed by over 40 mayors calling for EU support, underlining the mayors’ commitment to the Paris Agreement and asking for support to make just transition a reality. Now the Declaration has over 60 signatories.

More information: 

The EU Just Transition Mechanism

The urgent need to help regions move to clean sectors is reflected in the European Commission’s proposal for a ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ in January 2020. The Mechanism aims to mobilise €100 billion to support workers and their communities in regions whose economies are based on carbon-intensive activities, like coal mining. It consists of three pillars: a grant-giving pillar (the €7.5 billion Just Transition Fund), a pillar to leverage private funds (the InvestEU guarantee) and a third ‘public sector loan facility’ pillar. Most of the aspirational €100 billion, however, will need to be leveraged through the private sector, and co-financing from the cohesion policy also makes up a significant part. See WWF's reaction to the proposal

Imke Lübbeke
Head of Climate and Energy
WWF European Policy Office 
+32 2 743 88 18 

Sarah Azau
Media Manager 
WWF European Policy Office
+32 473 573 13
A documentary about Just Transition in Bulgaria, Poland, Greece and Germany. From the Regions Beyond Coal project, supported by the German environment ministry's European Climate Initiative.