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Working together with local communities for a Just Transition

Stavros Mavrogenis (WWF Greece)

Just Transition is doable and remains the only realistic option for coal regions in Europe. That was one of the main conclusions of Europe Beyond Coal meeting which took place in Thessaloniki, Greece on March 18-21 2019, where more than 100 representatives from 49 environmental NGOs convened for three days and elaborated on their goals and action plans for pushing forward the coal phase-out in Europe.

Coal regions face a dilemma in terms of the phase–out process. Either a fair and just transition to a sustainable economic model that drives regional transformation or a violent transition that will put the burden on workers and local communities. The stakes are high but available time for action is very limited. What is needed is long-term strategic planning, identifying the key areas for investments, working side by side with local stakeholders and advocating for Just Transition at the EU level. This is what WWF Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Poland do in a nutshell in our EUKI funded “Just Transition in Eastern and Southern Europe” project.

Engaging with local communities is one of the most important aspects of our project which brings added value to the overall objective and guarantees the sustainability of what we are trying to achieve. In that sense, WWF Greece organized a field trip and a side event to the EBC meeting in the village of Anargyroi which is situated in the northern part of the coal region of Western Macedonia. The village in 2017 suffered from a large scale landslide caused by the nearby open cast lignite mine which feeds the Amyntaio powerplant. Most of the residents were forced to evacuate their homes leaving behind a few dozen mostly elderly people who refused to abandon their houses.

During our visit, EBC participants had the opportunity to discuss with them and most importantly listen to their agonies and aspirations. Coal mining has a human face. It is the face of the villagers who most of them used to work in the mine, they are aware of the environmental and social impacts of coal extraction but they feel trapped in a vicious cycle in which livelihoods are dependent on coal but also coal does not allow any other economic activities to be developed. The last episode of this drama was the landslide. The relocation will cost more than 42 million euros and will be covered entirely by the state budget providing a multi-million gift to the Public Power Cooperation which operates the mine. However, it is still not certain the time the compensation will be available, when the infrastructure for the new village will be in place and when the actual date of the relocation. Another village was sacrificed just for the pleasure of “King Coal”. Not because lignite was found underneath but as a “collateral” damage of coal mining. People in coal mining regions should not be treated as collateral damage anymore. It is time to move beyond coal. And we can only do this with a Just Transition!

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