• Coal Retirements
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Climate Action
  • Energy Climate Policy

A Successful Just Transition from Coal Demands Regional Collaboration

Moritz Schaefer
Aug 08, 2022

Guidehouse Insights

Coauthored by Sarah Gul.

The Russian government’s military incursion into Ukraine has led to drastic interventions in the European energy market. Oil & gas prices are on the rise and are expected to skyrocket in the coming months while Russia continuously reduces gas transfers through its major pipelines. As a result, new floating liquified natural gas terminals have gone online in record-breaking time and citizens have been called on to save energy while gas emergency plans are activated. At the same time, heat records are being broken across the globe. Droughts and wildfires rage out of control, making the effects of climate change ever more evident and threatening.

Fossil Fuel Phaseout Is Even More Urgent

Greater energy independence and mitigation of global warming can only be achieved with faster replacement by renewable energies and stringent energy efficiency measures. As a result, the energy production from oil, coal, and gas will come to an end. It is no longer a question of if, but only when. For the extraction and burning of lignite and hard coal, most European Union (EU) Member States have set an exit date. This deadline means that the regional and economic transformation does not come as a surprise; it is much more a plannable transformation process backed up with billions from earmarked EU funds and technical assistance. And it comes with the EU promise to leave no one behind in these necessary transformations. 

Transformations Are Challenging but Support Is Available

Many regions in Europe have undergone substantial transformations for different reasons. In most coal regions, profound transformations have already taken place along with many job losses. These changes were caused primarily by technological innovation and increasing international competition rather than climate policy. As a result, coal regions across Europe are each at very different stages of their decarbonization with some at very early stages and others having already fully phased out coal extraction. It is critical that these regions exchange their knowledge and learn from each other to roll out successful transformation plans that provide the basis for sustainable growth and livable communities.

exchangeEU Facilitates Knowledge Sharing Amongst Coal+ Regions

The European Commission initiated the exchangeEU program, led by Guidehouse, to support coal, lignite, peat, and oil shale (coal+) regions across Europe to directly share knowledge with each other. The need for this knowledge exchange was reflected in the outcome of the first call for exchangeEU applications: out of 26 applications, 18 regions from 12 EU Member States are sharing their just transition experiences and learnings in eight exchanges (see Figure 1). The second call for applications will be opened on 15 September.

The participants reflect the many transition stages of coal+ regions. For example, the region of Asturias in Northern Spain has been matched with the Polish region of Silesia. In Asturias, all of the seven hard coal mines were closed by 2021 and the transition process is in full force. Whereas Silesia is still operating within a very late national hard coal phase out plan for 2049 but is eager to prepare the just transition process as early as possible and learn from the experiences of advanced regions such as Asturias. 

Figure 1: Outcome of First Call for Applications for the exchangeEU Program

Outcome of First Call for Applications for the exchangeEU Program

(Source: European Commission)

The exchangeEU participants form delegations made up of key local stakeholders, ranging from regional and local public authorities to non-governmental entities such as NGOs and regional economic agencies. The delegations share experiences and discuss topics, including operationalizing Territorial Just Transition Plans, re-skilling and up-skilling of former mine workers, engaging the community in the transition process, and developing and diversifying green economic opportunities. The exchanges not only provide inspiration on what is possible but also allow for in-depth discussions about successful strategies, funding opportunities, and alliances with key stakeholders.