At the end of 2017, the European Commission launched the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition, meant to help coal regions across the EU decarbonise in a way that is fair to local communities and workers.
Initially, the Platform has focused on pilot regions in Slovakia, Poland, Germany and Greece, developing country teams, selecting projects that could potentially be financially supported and gathering inputs from governments and the coal industry. Throughout the year, it expanded to include or collaborate with Romania, Czechia, Spain and Hungary.
Pretty soon, however, civil society and local actors noted that their voices were very marginal in the process. Initially, NGOs and representatives of local communities hardly had a chance to make a contribution during the meetings of the Coal Platform. Equally worrying, it seemed that national governments, unchallenged by the Platform Secretariat, favoured projects of coal companies and didn’t really have a process of project selection that would be open to the grassroots.
These concerns were brought to the attention of the Platform in the first part of 2018. Since then, the Platform has thankfully become more participatory, with NGOs and local actors invited and asked to speak during meetings organised by the Platform Secretariat in Brussels or, at the end of the year, Poland. Yet concerns remain – more needs to be done to ensure this kind of input is provided in a structured way and taken properly into account.
Another very serious concern is with the current system of selecting projects, whereby national authorities propose them to the country teams. Yet in many countries, national governments can be too close to the coal industry to make this process fair. This is undisputably proven by the nature of projects that has been discussed by country teams so far – in the case of Poland and Slovakia, as Bankwatch has documented, projects proposed by coal companies have been significantly favoured. Civil society, universities, the renewable industry and other potentially key actors get left out. The Commission should ensure that all stakeholders are involved, from project proposal to selection and implementation.
The Platform Secretariat has announced the creation of an online hub for the Platform, which would provide more information about work done in the coal regions. It is essential that this online hub is used to provide clear and transparent information about projects proposed to be undertaken in the various regions and how they contribute to the transition, including later on, monitoring progress on work on these projects and evaluating them. Without this kind of transparency, the Platform will lack legitimacy.
Finally, a major concern with the work of the Platform has been the Platform’s focus on ‘advanced coal technologies’ or the so-called ‘clean coal’. The long-term viability of carbon capture and storage is uncertain, and other ‘clean coal’ technologies do not align with the ambition for a net-zero emission power sector. ‘Clean coal’ does not exist and investing resources in these technologies now means communities will be locked into fossil fuels and a socially fair structural transformation will be made impossible. This is all contrary to the goal of the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition.
Since its launch, the Platform has been welcomed as a useful initiative – coal regions need all the support they can get to transform, as this is a highly complex process and cooperation is very beneficial. The Secretariat has also been quite dynamic in addressing concerns related to participation, which bodes well for the future. Yet there are serious concerns that, so far, the Platform has favoured the coal industry in some countries, that local actors have too little impact on the project selection process, and that ‘clean coal’ was favoured. These concerns must be addressed with urgency during 2019, otherwise the Platform’s goal will be undermined by its practices.
Photos by Flick user Nikos Patsiouris