Defining the barriers impacting a just transition in Europe


Defining the barriers impacting a just transition in Europe

In a recent report by WISE Europe, Impact Hub and EIT Climate-KIC, consistent dialogue and structured solutions that consist of the technological, economic and political factors are critical to a just transition. The “How to break down the barriers to transformation” report included an analysis of transforming regions dependent on coal and heavy industry, intending to support, inspire and generate data for those struggling to transition away from fossil fuels. There is increasing awareness across Europe regarding the need for a just transition. The European Green Deal contains bold climate action targets and carbon reduction goals. The EU Just Transition Fund will also support regions heavily dependent on fossil fuels in their transition toward a low-carbon economy.

In Europe, the predominant focus is on mining areas, since the ending of coal activity is considered a vital step towards a sustainable and clean energy system. The transition, however, isn’t a simple process of moving to renewables. This shift will have economic and social impacts on people reliant on these industries and requires a balanced focus on environmental protection, along with the need for a fair and equitable transition.

One particular challenge of the transition is the problem that many people working in fossil fuels will lose their jobs. These industries have provided steady employment for years, particularly for areas with few economic opportunities. It’s critical that people in these industries aren’t left behind, which will require investing in new infrastructure, supporting communities impacted by these changes and creating policies that enable the benefits of the transition to be shared equally. 

Anerta Skubia, the author of the report at WISE Europe, explains that one major challenge is ensuring the benefits of the transition are shared equally across all communities and regions. Coal mining has been a long-standing industry and tradition for many communities, so changes must occur at the societal level too. 

Working together and social dialogue are critical to a just transition

To tackle these challenges, EIT Climate KIC teamed up with WISE Europe and Impact Hub to explore various coal regions and investigate how they approach the transition from coal. Skubida believes the study shows how vital collaboration and trust are the benefits when stakeholders come together to create change and a new future. Often, we focus on technical solutions, but collaboration is the key driving force for systematic change. Tackling the process of transforming an entire region is not possible by one person, many groups must be involved in the process and trust each other with the end goal. The power of public and private sectors coming together, along with local communities, to plan for transition is clear. Taking an inclusive approach means all impacts are considered in the transition, and will have access to the benefits and new opportunities. 

Shifting away from fossil fuels cannot happen without economic diversification that supports new industries and career opportunities within sustainability and low-carbon industries. 

A separate report exploring how to eliminate the barriers to transformation report, explores various examples across Europe, the US and China, focusing on how specific measures have generated changes in each location. It assesses political, legal, social, financial and other factors to determine the overall impact of a just transition. According to the authors, shifting away from coal or decarbonising heavy industries is complex, so there are no clear pathways to address the challenges. The range of local factors means we cannot replicate solutions and generate the same results. The study encourages communities to determine their way, learn from others and create a better understanding of their challenges, barriers and measures.

The report findings echo a similar conclusion that building dialogue between stakeholders from other industries and regions, sharing knowledge and best practices, as well as applying a systematic approach to support coal regions accelerate their transition away from coal are critical.

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