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Energy poverty and skills related aspects of the just transition of European coal regions – overlaps and data gaps

Panel: 4. Monitoring and evaluation for a wise, just and inclusive transition

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Veronika Czako, European Commission Joint Research Centre, The Netherlands
Ingrida Murauskaite-Bull, European Commission Joint Research Centre, The Netherlands


The coal sector, including coal mines and power plants, is a traditionally important employer in many European regions. Coal related industrial activity is an important and sometimes founding element of local identity and culture. Skills profiles in terms of engineering, technical roles, manual occupations, including high-risk activities, as well as traditions of the local workforce are strongly connected to coal. The urban landscape can also be shaped by the presence of the industry in the form of pre-fabricated multi-apartment buildings constructed for the large-scale inflow of workforce at the peak of economic activity connected to coal.

The just transition of coal and carbon intensive regions has been the focus of a number of studies in recent years (JRC 2018, JRC 2020, TRACER 2020, REKK 2020, Cambridge Econometrics 2020, Agora Energiewende 2019). These highlight the challenges as well as transformative opportunities related to the decline of coal related economic activities and transition towards other industries, including a move towards clean energy industries. From the policy side, the EU has launched the Just Transition Mechanism with funds to support the transition, and the Just Transition Platform to provide technical and advisory support to access these funds. Furthermore, in October 2020 the European Commission launched the Renovation wave. It aims to refurbish and improve the EU building stock, contributing to reducing the risk of energy poverty, as well as creating jobs along the way in the construction sector.

In the context of the clean energy transition, with the shifting of emphasis from carbon-intensive energy production, coal regions are also undergoing a transformation in terms of employment. Some former coal workers relying on their existing skills set can participate in reskilling programmes and find new jobs in other sectors. Some may benefit from early retirement schemes. At the same time, some former coal workers may become temporarily or long-term unemployed. Loss of employment is a source of social tension. This can be exacerbated by energy poverty in relation to income loss, and also in relation to the potentially deteriorating building stock. Both the physical and the human landscape may thus be in need of regeneration.

This paper takes a closer look at 35 regions in Europe with coal industry, impacted most by the combination of expected coal sector job losses until 2030, and already existing unemployment levels (as identified in Alves Dias et al., 2018). In order for a just transition to take place, workforce in declining sectors will need to transfer and build upon existing skill sets, parallel to gaining additional skills. The paper collects indicators relevant to skills transfer and reskilling in the context of lifelong learning in an increasingly digitalised learning environment, as well as poverty as a proxy for energy poverty. Table 1 provides an overview of selected indicators. The availability of these indicators at NUTS 2 level, also in the 35 regions in question is assessed and gaps are identified. Table 2 provides further detail on the selected indicators.

Based on the information available, the overlaps between learning potential and energy poverty are highlighted. Energy poverty is assessed indirectly, more generally through poverty-related indicators. The approach sheds light on the situation of regions hosting coal related industries: which regions in which countries perform already well; which regions need more support in terms of lifelong learning and digital access; where is vulnerability to energy poverty more or less likely to be a risk. This further highlights where adult education policy in combination with energy related social policy has the highest potential to make a positive impact. As a further step, a composite indicator allowing ranking according to learning potential and poverty at the same time could be developed in the future.

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Download this paper as pdf: 4-068-21_Czako.pdf