Czech coal regions have a unique opportunity to use European funds to tackle the impacts of the end of the coal age. But they need to be clear about what exactly they need to secure a sustainable future. Declining mining activity and coal phase-out are inevitable in the foreseeable future.
The Moravian-Silesian, Usti nad Labem and Karlovy Vary regions, Czechia’s most prominent coal territories, are still strongly coal-dependent and require a profound transformation. Compared to other parts of Czechia, they have most difficulties with the high unemployment rate and belong to the group of regions with the highest numbers of persons in personal bankruptcy. So, if the end of the coal age is to come, the three coal-dependent territories are not ready for it at the moment.
The Czech Republic will receive additional money from the European Union to support the transformation of coal regions and the fulfilment of climate commitments in the form of the Just Transition Fund (JTF). At the EU summit in July, the leaders of the member states agreed on the final size of the financial aid – 17.5 billion EUR. Such a possibility of funding the socio-economically just transition away from the coal-dependent economy is a reason to rejoice, but also to be much more vigilant.
The European Commission’s intention is clear – the money is to support visions of the European Green Deal by helping the specific regions which are going to be affected the most. The term fair transformation represents the concept of a socially considerate end of the coal age. It is one of the preconditions for a successful transition to carbon-neutral energy.
However, fairness cannot be taken for granted – in this situation, it requires active public involvement, transparent funding and, above all, a stockpile of sustainable and meaningful projects. The Fund will most likely not support nuclear energy or the senseless resuscitation of the coal sector. On the contrary, investment in small and medium-sized enterprises, research and innovation, upgrading and retraining of workers from mines and coal-fired power stations and their integration or restoration of the environment will be welcome.
Besides, the European Commission will want to examine the intentions of the EU states before providing them with financial resources from the JTF. To be able to use the said resources, the countries are required to create Territorial Plans for Just Transition, which must be subsequently approved by the European Commission. These are step-by-step plans of each country’s activities up to 2030, which should address the social, economic and environmental challenges arising from the EU’s commitment to climate neutrality.
We don’t know how the Czech Republic will respond to this unique opportunity and with which plans it will want to approach the European Commission. In any case, it is in the interest of all of us that weak regions are strengthened and that money flows where it belongs and does not disappear into black holes. The European Commission’s repeated mantra says: “No one should be left behind.” We need to enable local communities and municipal officeholders to take part in the preparations of The Just Transition Territorial Plans. These must be prepared transparently and formed according to clearly defined criteria, such as sustainability, the rate of creation of quality jobs or the effects on quality of life.
The civic dimension must play a primary role in relieving the Czech Republic of its dependence on the coal industry. It is necessary to focus on the needs of specific citizens and support their active involvement in the planning process. Hearing the needs of the coal regions and their citizens could thus be at least a partial compensation for the lunar landscape, the health problems caused by air pollution and the social insecurity of life in a region dependent on the coal industry.
This article was first published – in Czech – on Euractiv Czech: https://euractiv.cz/section/energetika/opinion/uhelne-regiony-nejste-v-tom-samy-tvrdi-eu/
Translated from Czech by Nicole Princlova.