Published on January 14, 2022

Are the winds of change heralding a just transition for Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Banovići in Bosnia was until recently one of the Western Balkans’ hot spots for new coal power capacity. Now it is pushing for a transition away from coal and improved air quality.

Coal has been the centre of gravity in the small Bosnian town for over 70 years, with its four lignite mines and coal processing facilities. For the last decade or so, the proposed 350 MW Banovići coal power plant has been in a shoulder-to-shoulder competition for financing, permitting and even water with its more notorious rival, Tuzla 7.

But a recent series of happenings force the town to turn on its heels and face a new, sustainable development model. Among these are the fact that most financiers – including Chinese banks – now see coal as a liability and refuse to finance new coal plants; the commitment to decarbonisation by 2050 of all Western Balkan countries, and the very concrete expiry of the proposed plant’s environmental permit and the developer’s lack of action in requesting a renewal.

Under a new leadership, the town in 2021 joined the Clean Air Regions Initiative, led by the Energy Community Secretariat and has also applied for the exchange programme within the Coal Regions in Transition Initiative for the Western Balkans. The former commits the participating municipalities to develop, adopt and maintain Local Air Quality Action Plans with ambitious local air quality targets, policies and measures; while the latter aims to pair the town with another coal-dependent town either in the EU or in the USA and provide study visits, knowledge exchange, and expert support.

2022 starts with even more promising news in support of Banovići’s transition journey – it could become the host of Tuzla canton’s first solar farm.

The energy transition is quite a radical change, and not everyone will welcome it with open arms, but clearly it needs to happen and the sooner it does, and the better planned it is, the higher its chances of success.

At the end of last year, miners from nearby mines owned by the Elektroprivreda BIH public utility went on strike about working conditions. The strike also raised questions about the Government’s plan to restructure the mines and phase out coal – plans which have so far remained hidden, even if it is clear that coal mining is not something to bank on in the future.

In the film “Winds of change: Bosnia’s Banovići gears up for a just transition” released today, the mayor and local civil society representatives take us through the challenges and opportunities of coal phase out and what that means for affected communities.

Banovići is now in a position to become an inspiration for similar towns throughout the region and make just transition an inclusive, bottom-up planning process, only if it really follows through with its plans and strategies.