Breaking down barriers to a just transition in Europe
In The News
13 Mar 2023
Social dialogue and systemic solutions that take into account not only technological but also economic and political factors are the golden means to a just transition, according to the report “How to break down the barriers to transformation” developed by WISE Europa and Impact Hub together with EIT Climate-KIC. The report, which provides an analysis of the transformation efforts of coal and heavy industry regions in Europe and beyond, aims to support, inspire and provide data to those struggling to move away from coal.
There is growing awareness in Europe of the need for a just transition, The European Green Deal sets ambitious targets for climate action and carbon emissions reductions, and the EU’s Just Transition Fund, with a budget of €17.5 billion, will support regions heavily dependent on fossil fuels in their transition to a low-carbon economy.
In Europe, the focus is on mining regions, since the coal phase-out is considered one of the most important steps towards a more sustainable and cleaner energy system. But it’s not as simple as switching to a renewable source of energy. By recognising that this shift will have significant economic and social impacts on communities that rely on the industry, we have to balance the need for environmental protection with the need for a fair and equitable transition for all involved.
One of the biggest challenges of this transition is the concern that a lot of people working in traditional industries will lose their jobs. These industries have historically provided stable employment for many workers, especially in regions with limited economic opportunities. It is important to ensure that workers in these industries are not left behind, for instance by investing in new industries and infrastructure, by supporting affected workers and communities, and by creating policies that ensure that the benefits of the transition are shared fairly.
“Another challenge is to ensure that the benefits of transition are shared equitably across all regions and communities. What is also often overlooked, and crucial for a just transition in coal regions, is the fact that coal mining has been part of the identity of these communities, in some cases, for hundreds of years. Change must therefore also take place at the societal level,” said Aneta Skubida, WISE Europa, one of the authors of the report.
Cooperation and social dialogue are the cornerstones of a successful just transition
To address these challenges, EIT Climate-KIC has partnered with WISE Europa and Impact Hub to analyse 30 coal regions around the world, focusing on how they are approaching the shift away from coal, taking into account the principles of a just transition. The report provides comprehensive knowledge and encourages testing new approaches with breakthrough potential in governance, economic development stakeholder collaboration, resource mobilisation, technologies and more. It also helps to identify blockages to overcome, patterns worth scaling up and raises awareness to put social dialogue at the heart of the just transition pathway.
“This study shows the importance of collaboration and trust – how crucial it is when key stakeholders start coming together, working out a new future and bringing about change. We tend to focus on technical solutions, yet it is a collaboration that is the subsoil of big systemic changes. When we are talking about something as complicated as transforming an entire region, it can’t be accomplished by one person or one solution – many actors need to participate in the process and trust each other that they’re all here to build a new common future on new foundations”, – Skubida adds.
It is about bringing together actors from the public and private sectors, as well as civil society and local communities, to discuss and plan for transition. Social inclusion aims to ensure that all members of affected communities, including workers and marginalised groups, are included in the transition and have access to opportunities.
Moving away from fossil fuels will not be possible without economic diversification, which should support the development of new industries and employment opportunities with a focus on sustainable and low-carbon sectors. Environmental sustainability should ensure that the transition is carried out in an environmentally sound manner.
Thirty cases of just transition pioneers to set an example
The “How to break down the barriers to transformation” report looks at individual case studies from European countries such as Germany, Poland and Belgium to countries around the world such as the United States and China, focusing on specific innovative actions that have helped to enable greater change in the given location. It examines different types of transformation barriers such as political, legal, governance, organisational, social, financial and others. It also analyses innovative solutions that have been applied in each region and diagnoses how and why each particular new solution enabled a breakthrough.
According to the authors, as transitions such as coal phase-out or decarbonising a heavy industry are complex in nature (e.g., creation of new jobs, depopulation, need for identity change, and many more) there are no “silver bullets” to address transition challenges. The variety of local contexts presented means that it is not possible to successfully copy-paste the solutions and expect to achieve the same results. The aim of this study is to encourage communities to find their own ways, learn from one another and develop a deeper understanding of their own challenges, barriers, and frameworks.
The report, funded by Community Lab, an EIT Climate-KIC initiative that aims to activate communities around just transition in CEE, puts a special emphasis on case study analysis from the perspective of Central, Eastern and Southern European countries (the so-called EIT RIS scheme). Its conclusions are also reflected in the EIT Climate-KIC-led Post Coal Future Lab initiative which aims to foster dialogue between stakeholders from different sectors and regions, share practical knowledge and best practices, and introduce a systemic and experimental approach to help European coal regions accelerate their just transition away from coal.
The report is available here.