• Coal Retirements
  • Zero Net Energy
  • Sustainability
  • Fossil Fuels
  • European Union

5 Key Takeaways from Coal+ Regional Exchanges

Moritz Schaefer
Nov 11, 2022

Guidehouse Insights Sustainability

Coathored by Emma Krause

Transitioning to net-zero requires substantive engagement and input, including public and private resource financing, public participation, and use of existing and new physical and social infrastructure. It goes beyond impacts on the fossil industry workforce, as made clear by the COP26 Glasgow commitment to support conditions for a just transition internationally. The exchangeEU program offers opportunities to substantiate these conditions, as participating coal+ regions have the chance to engage in meaningful and tangible exchanges to share experiences and overcome challenges in their just transition processes. As such, exchangeEU builds a broad network of connections and practitioners, producing demonstrable long-term lessons and benefits. On behalf of the European Commission, Guidehouse and partners design, develop, and implement the program for these regions across Europe.

In October 2022, the program completed its first round, with 18 coal+ regions in transition participating in a total of eight exchanges. The participating regions represent 12 EU member states: Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. Exchanges focused on a variety of topics, from economic development strategies to district heating plans to transition governance approaches. The following five takeaways can be drawn from these exchanges:

  1. Put citizens at the forefront. Following a participatory bottom-up approach to defining the needs and priorities of citizens affected by the coal phaseout is crucial. The organization running the just transition process is encouraged to establish a collaborative platform to illicit a wide range of civil society and local community input and facilitate mutual dialogue. Such a collaborative platform can then be used to form a common strategy and specific engagement objectives for the just transition process.
  2. Diversify sources of finance. Both public and private financing needs to be mobilized, deployed, and secured over the course of the just transition process. Local or regional economic development offices in transition regions are encouraged to develop a finance roadmap for potential projects for former coal+ sites, to better understand both existing finance sources and potentially unutilized capital streams.
  3. Holistically consider the effects of coal+ phaseouts. Policies and programs supporting a just transition must consider the transition’s effects on families dependent on mining activities across multiple dimensions, including their physical health and sense of identity and community in addition to their working competencies. Job support programs will be better substantiated if they are complemented by additional programs that support health and social mobility.
  4. Seek opportunities to revitalize former mining sites rather than tearing them down. Revitalizing former mining sites can have dual benefits: preserving mining heritage that is part of the community identity, and leveraging existing infrastructure for clean energy or nature tourism projects. For example, Prievidza, Slovakia, is turning a former mining site into a district heating center using renewable energy resources.
  5. Leverage opportunities to learn from other coal+ regions engaged in a just transition process. Many regions, though culturally, economically, or socially different, are facing the same challenges and thus benefit from the opportunity to exchange directly and openly on what works well and what doesn’t. For example, during the exchangeEU program, representatives from Bulgaria and Greece’s Western Macedonia found it fruitful to discuss their respective approaches to finalizing territorial just transition plans, which will inform transition pathways for both regions going forward.

To master the challenges ahead and seize opportunities in the months and years to come, a strong and proactive European community that drives a just transition and thrives through it will be crucial. To this end, a second round of exchanges has launched and is being implemented from March to May 2023.