Time to put in place Paris-compatible coal phase-out plans in Central and Eastern Europe – EURACTIV.com
Central and Eastern European countries must set national coal phase-out dates by 2030 at the latest in order to align with the Paris Agreement climate goals, write environmental activists.
Authors: Elif Gündüzyeli, CAN Europe; Tomas Jungwirth, Center for Transport and Energy, Czech Republic; Wojciech Szymalski, Institute for Sustainable Development, Poland, and; Taj Zavodnik, Focus, Slovenia.
As debates on phasing out coal intensify in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland, breaking free from coal is no longer an ‘if’ but a question of ‘when’ and ‘how’ for these states. ‘Central and Eastern Europe. The development and revision of long-term national strategies in these countries is increasing political pressure to set and incorporate an early coal phase-out date into the strategies.
What is a Paris-compatible plan for coal in the European Union? The prerequisite is to set national phase-out dates by 2030 at the latest, followed by timely, inclusive and adequate Just Transition Plans (TJs). In Slovenia and Poland, governments are preparing National Long Term Strategies (LTS), and in Czechia there are plans to revise its obsolete LTS – soon! Setting dates early, in a vision of 100% renewable energy, would allow fluid modeling of long-term plans and show concrete steps to achieve climate neutrality well before 2050.
There is a unique opportunity for these governments to tap into unprecedented levels of EU financial support. Sincere political will for a phase-out of coal in 2030 will yield bigger and faster benefits. The new EU budget and stimulus funds provide significant amounts of financial support (see Table 1) to trigger investments and support measures, both to invest in renewables, energy efficiency and electrification of transport, as well as to launch reforms to make this transition fair and equitable, providing decent jobs, new skills and social well-being. In addition, part of the revenue generated by the Emissions Trading System Modernization and Innovation Fund is readily available to help accelerate a rapid and fair transition of energy infrastructure.
In addition, the coal fire is easing as ETS prices reach historically high levels. Operators of coal-fired power plants and mines are prepared to dispose of their assets as soon as possible. If governments are early enough to set a realistic coal phase-out date and inclusive CE plans, local communities will have the opportunity to make the transition just with the funds available.
In Slovenia, the public consultation on the national coal phase-out strategy ended last month with a proposal to end coal by 2033. The proposal was met with calls from some ministers, unions and local authorities of the region concerned to continue to use coal. until 2042 on the one hand, and warnings from environmental activists that even 2030 is too late. As the final decision is political, it could overlook the devastating financial aspects and health impacts of operating the Šoštanj power plant beyond 2030.
In Czechia, a government decision has been postponed due to a deep internal conflict between the years 2033 or 2038, as proposed dates for the phasing out of coal. There is a good chance that this will not be taken until the next general election in October. Still, it looks like the market is leading the way and the economy will phase out coal before any regulation. The government should reflect on these new realities when reviewing and updating its outdated and largely poorly implemented long-term national climate strategy next year.
In addition, Poland is grappling with high demands from coal mining interest groups, treated as privileged for many years. In mid-April 2021, the government reached an agreement with the coal unions to end coal mining by 2049. This agreement requires substantial state aid to keep the mines operational, due to years of sharp financial decline and current levels of carbon credits that will not pay off.
So far, the path to 2049 is unpredictable and it is very likely that market conditions will result in much faster shutdowns for most mines. In the meantime, for some, the end of lignite is becoming a reality. In eastern Poland, ZE PAK plans to phase out coal by 2030 and has announced the abandonment of new lignite mining projects. This is quite a turnaround from just two years ago, when new lignite mines were planned. The Polish LTS is expected to ride this wave and accelerate the global phase-out of coal.
The Paris-compliant coal phase-out schedule would also help many coal-dependent regions interrupted by the Territorial Plan for a Just Transition processes as it would provide clear political guidance. National commitments for the phasing out of coal by 2030 and the transition to climate neutral economies would speed up the drafting of TJT plans and unlock grants and loans for local communities through the just transition mechanism. The mechanism allows fundamental investments in coal regions to jump into a clean future, while providing a bottom-up governance mechanism.
Fundamentally, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe need to ensure that their long-term strategies involve realistic and fair visions of transformation that will push economies to become climate neutral. To do this, they must be ambitious, timely and realistic – and include national coal phase-out dates, no later than 2030 – in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.