Clean Jobs Can Replace Coal Jobs In European Regions, WWF Report

 Jobs in coal are plummeting across Europe as countries

shift to renewable energy sources – WWF is calling
for EU countries to phase out their coal power by 2030 to
fight the climate crisis
and uphold the Paris
Agreement
. 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. Such a major change must be
accompanied by a comprehensive Just Transition
Strategy
to minimise 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.
This is particularly significant for the coal producing
Stara Zagora, Pernik and Bobov Dol regions of
southwestern Bulgaria.

The European
Commission has set up a €17.5 billion Just Transition Fund
to help mediate the social impacts of the shift from coal in
regions whose economies have been based on it. Communities
can access the fund by drawing up plans which are submitted
by their government to the European Commission. The Fund –
and its sister schemes under the Just Transition Mechanism,
in combination with the national and private funds, are a
huge opportunity to shift to a durable, climate-neutral
economy. The new WWF report, Europe’s
Coal Regions: Boosting Employment, Environment and Economy
through ‘Just Transition’
takes an in-depth look
at the problems and opportunities in the Stara Zagora,
Pernik and Bobov Dol regions of southwestern Bulgaria;
Silesia and Eastern Wielkopolska in Poland; and Western
Macedonia and Megalopolis in Greece.

The report finds
that planning, local participation, transparency and a
commitment to end fossil fuels are crucial aspects for all
the regions which, alongside the financing, can turn coal
communities into sustainably and economically thriving
places to live.

The analysis in Bulgaria shows
that 15,600 direct coal sector employees will easily find
jobs in existing economic sectors, but they will be lower
paid. Only 2,850 jobs will be created based on innovations
and new technologies generated by the Just Transition Fund
that will pay higher than current levels. That is why it is
crucial that the Fund’s resources are directed to
sustainable and innovative economic activities which will
allow a real Just Transition
.” – Georgi Stefanov,
Chief Climate and Energy Expert, WWF Bulgaria

Just
Transition in Central and Eastern Europe

(CEE) will
contribute to achieving EU climate neutrality and the local
development of target regions by having a positive impact in
all the important aspects of the transition process –
social, economic and environmental. For example, the total
coal reserves in Southwest Bulgaria are estimated to be
relatively small –

less than 15% of the country’s
overall reserves; 5% of which is extracted. The two
operational thermal power plants (TPPs) in the region, TPP
Bobov Dol (Bobov Dol municipality) and TPP Republika (Pernik
municipality) burn about 2.5% of the coal, and generate
approximately 5% of Bulgaria’s annual electricity
production. Closing down these two coal-fired power plants
will leave an annual 903,781 MWh energy gap that will need
to be filled by alternative sustainable sources and energy
saving measures.

For example, there are over 150
protected areas of all types in Southwest Bulgaria,
including two of the country’s three national parks: Rila
National Park (the largest in Bulgaria) and Pirin National
Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). These conditions
favour economic alternatives such as 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 considered when deciding on
alternative, Just Transition Mechanism-funded economic
investments in the region.

Read
Report

The lessons for the EU are
clear. We can get this right, but to do so, the EU Just
Transition Mechanism must only be used in ways that support
a transition to a net-zero carbon economy, like by investing
in job-creating renewable energy or the circular economy –
and not in anything that would undermine it or create
stranded assets, like the false solution of fossil gas.
What’s more, the EU Commission must check local level
plans aim for zero fossil fuels and are drawn up in a
participatory, transparent and fair way
.” – Katie
Treadwell, WWF European Policy Office

The report also
finds that: 

Job numbers in mining are
falling and many more are at risk.

In Silesia, Poland,
15,000 to 18,000 workers in mining-related companies are at
risk of losing their jobs by 2030 [1]
. 2,200 coal jobs in Greece are under imminent
threat;

The impacts go beyond employment
numbers.

Local communities in Western Macedonia,
Greece, will suffer income losses of some €3.1 for every
€ 1 taken off lignite-fired activity;

However in
many regions, sustainable jobs can more than replace those
lost.

Up to 22,000 jobs could be created in Poland’s
Eastern Wielkopolska region alone, making up for the jobs
lost in the coal lignite sector and related sectors;
and

To enable a successful Just
Transition, the Just Transition Mechanism should prioritise
investments linked to the net-zero carbon
economy.

This will help use the skills of
former coal workers and take advantage of the growing demand
for technologies and products in a low-carbon
economy.

When approving Territorial Just
Transition Plans, the Commission should:

  • Verify
    that the “Partnership Principle” has been upheld. Verify
    that investments will not prolong fossil fuel extraction and
    use, and that a clear end date for coal is
    set;
  • Verify respect for the Polluter Pays
    Principle;
  • Seek to promote transparency by sharing
    and publicising draft plans;
  • Ensure that plans set
    out a framework of support for all workers affected;
    and
  • Emphasise the importance of all pillars of the
    Just Transition Mechanism and other national and EU public
    funds such as the broader cohesion funds, to implement
    plans.

The foreseen Action Plan on
Social Economy and the implementation of the European Pillar
of Social Rights
should take particular account of
the needs of regions in transition and particularly coal
regions; and

The Commission should ensure
that the Territorial Just Transition Plans are consistent
with other EU funds
– including the main recovery
fund, the “Recovery and Resilience Facility” (RRF) –
and in line with the EU Sustainable Investment Taxonomy and
the Do No Harm Principle.

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