The Green Brief: Europe’s long road out of coal
MAY 29, 2021 - euractiv

To burn or not to burn coal was once the question. That has now been emphatically answered: both the need to drastically reduce carbon emissions and the squeeze of rising carbon prices have driven coal beyond viability.

The next question is how to get out of coal. There are still many regions across Europe where the energy mix and local economy are dependent on old coal mines. These jobs are often in areas where there are few other types of employment and people are scared of what will happen when the mines shut.

Different countries have taken different approaches to ditching coal. Some have embraced the energy transition and are eagerly awaiting the just transition fund from Brussels. In countries like Poland and Bulgaria, that trend is particularly seen in the regions where private companies operate mines and power plants.

That is because state-owned companies are better able to swallow rising carbon prices and governments support them because coal is political. Bulgaria, for instance, saw the discussion around coal put on the back burner while its elections took place. No one wants to be the first to say coal is out.

Poland has chosen simply to kick the can down the road. Heavily reliant on coal for its energy, Warsaw wants to run its hard coal mines until 2049 – one year before Europe hopes to reach carbon neutrality. It has not yet reached a deal with unions over phasing out lignite, the more polluting version of coal and the fuel for Poland’s biggest power plant, Bełchatów.

It was that continuation of the status quo that ultimately led to the Turów dispute. Poland prolonged the mine’s licence until 2026 and then again until 2044. It is the first prolongation that is being challenged by the Czech Republic, while the second one could see the region miss out on its portion of EU money under the bloc’s €17.5 billion Just Transition Fund.

All throughout, the European Commission has been very quiet and was criticised for not doing enough around Turów. The EU executive has evaded questions on whether the region will miss out on just transition money if mining continues. The only real suggestion that it could lose its just transition fund has been in a European Parliament document.

The European Commission has never had anything like a Europe-wide strategy to ditch coal – and that shows in the mismatch between regions and friction between countries. The executive hides behind the shield of energy sovereignty – the idea that all countries can choose their energy mixes – but it is consistently eroding that with renewable energy targets and the bloc’s carbon emission reduction goals.

Perhaps this all could have been avoided if the European Union – including its member states – had mapped out and coordinated Europe’s long road out of coal. Instead, we’re left with a mess and a bitter lawsuit between two EU countries.

Read more: https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/the-green-brief-europes-long-road-out-of-coal/

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