In the coal regions of Poland, Greece and Bulgaria, sustainable new jobs can more than replace lost coal jobs while preserving the environment, a new WWF report finds.
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.
The European Commission has set up a €17.5 billion Just Transition Fund to help support 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 right national and private funds – are a huge opportunity to shift to a durable, climate-neutral economy.
The report, from WWF based on input from national consultants, takes an in-depth look at Silesia and Eastern Wielkopolska in Poland; Western Macedonia and Megalopolis in Greece, and the Pernik and Bobov Dol regions of south-western Bulgaria, as well as making recommendations for the biggest Bulgarian coal region Stara Zagora.
It finds for all the regions that planning, local participation, transparency and a commitment to ending fossil fuels are crucial aspects which, alongside the financing, can turn coal communities into sustainably and economically thriving places to live. (For detailed findings and figures, please see below).
Katie Treadwell from WWF European Policy Office, said: “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.”
Marta Anczewska from WWF Poland said: “Workers from all the sectors affected directly by transition need support and a safety net, for themselves and their families. What we have discovered is that the non-direct effects of coal phase-out on the related companies (suppliers and buyers) as in Poland, or temporary/seasonal workers as in Greece are very important and can not be neglected.”
Georgi Stefanov from WWF Bulgaria said: ‘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 and 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.
Dimitris Tsekeris from WWF Greece said: ‘Fossil gas in Greece is in the same position as coal was 15 years ago, and will face a similar crisis of stranded assets in years to come. We need to lock-in sustainable alternatives, not more fossil fuels. A transition plan should be just, enjoy the full support and participation of local communities so as to maximize the benefits for them, without leaving anyone behind, enhancing social cohesion.
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 2030.2,200 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.
● 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.
- 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 EU Just Transition Platform should provide a forum to exchange on the development and implementation of the territorial just transition plans, and to raise issues of partnership in the development of 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.
● 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.
This week the EU Coal Platform is taking place. WWF will be speaking at a panel on ‘Building back better post-Covid-19’ at 10 AM CEST on Thursday 29 April at the EU Coal Platform. More info.
The report, Europe’s Coal Regions: Boosting employment, environment, economy through ‘just transition’, is available here. It was written and designed as part of WWF’s Regions Beyond Coal project, supported by the European Climate Initiative (EUKI).
Media Manager, WWF EU
Tel: +32 473 57 3137
 Mining-related companies are understood as direct suppliers of products and services to the coal industry, meaning companies providing machinery, services and power plants buying coal.