EU Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans, Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, and Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson launched on June 29 the European Just Transition Platform (JTP) to support carbon-intensive regions make the transition to clean energy sources.
According to the Commission, the Just Transition Platform will help Member States to draw up their territorial Just Transition Plans and access funding from the over €150 billion Just Transition Mechanism. This online Platform will provide technical and advisory support for public and private stakeholders in coal and other carbon-intensive regions, with easy access to information on funding opportunities and sources of technical assistance.
Timmermans noted that many regions have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, especially where it is so difficult to enforce social distancing in coal mines. Work in many essential industries had to continue. “As we rebuild our economies and our societies, we will have to resist falling into the trap of rebuilding old structures. We simply cannot afford paying to go back to business as usual and then paying again to transform. Instead, we should grasp this opportunity to rebuild a more sustainable economy,” Timmermans, reminding that inclusive growth for present and future generations, for cities and rural regions, for coal and carbon-intensive regions is at the heart of the European Green Deal.
“Our Green Deal ambition is to demonstrate a new model for inclusive transformation, which is based on just transition, and then work with our partners in the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Southern Africa, India and Asia who are faced with the same challenges. We want to make sure that no region is left behind,” Timmermans said. “And frankly, I hope that we can be even more audacious in our aspirations because your regions are not only endowed with natural resources but also with skilled workforce, technicians, engineers and people of great work ethic who get up early. You can be at the forefront of the Green Deal and we want to help you bring this vision into coal and carbon-intensive regions, your regions, have been the backbone of industrial growth in Europe for decades. There is no doubt that the Green Deal is a challenge, but one which also brings new opportunities,” he added.
“Yes, we want to become the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050. But we also want to become the world’s industrial powerhouse for innovative clean and circular solutions, which the world so desperately needs,” Timmermans said. “The Green Deal is our Europe’s new growth strategy and my message to those who work in coal mines, peat bogs, oil shale mines, steel plants, fertilizer plants and other carbon-intensive sectors is that we need your skills to build a new industry. We will protect nature, climate and biodiversity but we will not let Europe become a museum. Rather, it will be at the forefront of the new world economy, based on innovation and clean energy,” he added.
For her part, Ferreira promised that the EU will leave no one behind in this needed shift to a carbon-neutral economy. That is what cohesion policy is about. Cohesion policy works daily to reduce regional disparities – in Europe and in each member state – to accelerate convergence and improve the lives of all Europeans, regardless of where they leave, she said.
Present instruments are not enough
She reminded that there are some 230,000 Europeans working in coal mines and coal-fired power stations. Many more are working in the production of other fossil-fuels and in carbon-intensive industries, from steel to cement, or chemicals. “What will happen to these regions?” she asked. “They were in the last decades the economic backbone of our growth and they need to be supported to seize the new opportunities. This is why we have proposed the creation of the Just Transition Fund and the Just Transition Mechanism,” Ferreira said.
She stressed that the coronavirus pandemic has made the already painful situation of these regions even more precarious and even more pressing. This awareness led us, in the Commission, to increase the amount endowed to the Just Transition Fund from €7.5 billion to €40 billion. This increase will treble its investment capacity, making it better equipped to deal with the challenges of the transition.
Meanwhile, Simson acknowledged that some EU member states had a head start rolling out clean energy sources. Others are more vulnerable. “When it comes to supporting regions, we are not beginning at the beginning. On the energy side of things, the Just Transition Platform will be an extension of work that was already ongoing under the Coal Regions in Transition Platform. Just on a different scale,” the EU Energy Commissioner said.
She noted that this platform has been a place where coal regions could share knowledge and experience. “Exchange project ideas. It creates bonds and ties between regions across Europe. One good example is the tripartite cooperation between Germany, Poland and Czechia where the border regions of these countries have set a common vision for transition and share and collaborate on what could help their regions prosper, like alternative fuels or tourism,” Simson said, adding that everybody keeps their own pace for transitioning, but a common vision of the future emerges beyond the borders.
Moreover, Country Teams were created, just like the ones to continue under the Just Transition Platform, she said. “But as Frans already said – due to expanding scope, we will call them Just Transition Teams from now on. They act as a meeting point between the Commission and Member States at national, regional and local level, between public and private sector and trade unions to discuss strategy and project development,” Simson said, adding that these teams have created a space for dialogue where there was none before, between the Commission and the local stakeholders.
“These projects cover so many areas that could support local citizens. From spatial planning, to clean air, or cultural heritage,” Simson said and added, “All related to moving beyond their coal mining past”.