As the Paris Agreement and the vision for a net zero carbon economy by 2050 require the EU and the member states to step up their decarbonisation efforts to an unprecedented level, this has major implications for energy production and thus for the energy-producing regions, their communities and economies. Central Europe Energy Partners together with the European Policy Center, tackled the issue in the event: Achieving a just energy transition in the Central and Eastern Europe: addressing the challenge, organized in Brussels, on the 7th of March.
Most of the coal regions are located in Central and South-Eastern Europe (in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria), areas with significantly lower than EU average GDP per capita.
As MEP Jerzy Buzek stressed, the transition towards a low-carbon economy brings benefits, but also creates challenges, especially for the “coal regions” that cannot be left behind. Hence, he proposed in the European Parliament the creation of a Just Energy Transition Fund of 5 bln EUR as part of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Its primary role would be to support coal dependent and energy-intensive regions in the transition towards a low carbon economy, while addressing the distributional implications of the energy transition.
The Head of Unit of Wholesale Market Coal and Oil, DG Energy, European Commission, Anna Colucci, stressed that the Clean Energy Package will trigger the creation of some 900.000 jobs in the next ten years in Europe, but this will not be equally distributed all over the EU. Concrete support and exchange of best practices should be deployed for mono-industrial economies to avoid social exclusion. Her statement was reinforced by the Director for Smart and Sustainable Growth, DG Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission, Rudolf Niessler, who stressed that transition is not happening in a sector only and that transition happens at the local level and no one size fits all measure can be imposed from the above.
Marek Wąsiński, Analyst, at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, underlined that to get to a low-carbon economy we need better interconnectivity in gas and electricity, efficiency of the energy use, sources of financing and local cooperation, based on the report he co-authored with Bartosz Bieliszczuk: “Energy transition and climate policy. Between the Three Seas 1988-2018.
As Rebekka Popp, Researcher, E3G, declared, the transition strategies need to be cost efficient and climate and just transition components need to be addressed jointly. She also described the three components of a just transition: minimize the negative impacts from climate change itself, reap opportunities from decarbonization and mitigate negative impacts from decarbonization.
The Director of International affairs, PGE, CEEP member, Maciej Burny, brought to the attention of the audience that Poland started the transition in 2008 and reduced the use of coal from more than 90% to around 77% in less than ten years. He also exposed the three main areas impacted by the transition: jobs; electricity prices; need for capital for investments. Only in Silesia, Poland, there are 80.000 coal-related jobs which could be cut off by 50% by 2030, i.e. 40.000. More, 1EUR of carbon price translates to 1EUR electricity price for the wholesale. Last but not least, he explained the difficulties his country has to access EU funds for different projects, be it, nuclear, gas fired plants or even RES.
Achieving a successful energy transition, at the time of mounting social stress and political distrust, requires addressing the distributional consequences. It is essential to build a policy framework and use the instruments available, such as funding, to support the regions and people in the transition.