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Multi-partner platform launched for the transformation of coal regions in the Western Balkans and Ukraine

The World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Commission, the Energy Community Secretariat and the Government of Poland joined forces in the framework of a recently launched initiative that provides dedicated help for coal-dependent regions in the Western Balkans and Ukraine to tackle the challenges of a timely transition towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient future.

The new initiative aims to foster wide stakeholder consultations and dialogue with national governments and private-sector actors alike. It is envisaged that it will include groups from state, regional and local authorities, coal and coal-based industry (including electricity production and GHG-intense industry in those regions), civil society, trade unions and social partners as well as academic institutions.

The participants will work together to deliver knowledge on planning and preparing for the transition to coal regions and governments, at the same time it will also facilitate matchmaking with financial resources where possible, to help identify and implement pilot projects that support the decarbonisation objectives of these regions.

The Platform Initiative is built on five components of cooperation; knowledge-sharing platform meetings; the EU-Western Balkans and Ukraine coal regions twinning; the Coal Regions Learning Academy established to formally disseminate good practices and support transition; technical assistance for pilot projects and the financing of transition projects and programmes.

The Platform Initiative is the brainchild of multiple international partners. It is led by the World Bank, with political leadership from the European Commission. The Energy Community Secretariat will ensure consistency of the planned activities in the coal mining regions with national plans related to coal use. The EBRD will lead the coordination on financing, including providing own financing where appropriate, for transition projects and programmes.

The platform has the conceptual support on the economic transition from the Government of Poland, represented by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. The mechanism is expected to facilitate a knowledge exchange between coal regions in Poland and Ukraine that can help both countries prepare for an energy transformation in the coming years.

Although Poland is still the largest hard coal producer in the European Union, the country has made impressive achievements in decoupling energy growth from economic growth. Polish GDP increased by seven-fold while energy intensity dropped by around one third over the last three decades therefore Poland believes that it can provide valuable lessons in chartering new pathways for effective regional transformation.

“For 31 years, the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management has been a big promoter and sponsor of many successful environmental projects in Poland, including those aimed at improving economic prospects in regions dominated by coal mining,” said Artur Lorkowski, Deputy President at the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.

“This enables us to share extensive experience gained in the ‘just transition’ process in Poland,” said Mr Lorkowski. “We are glad that the experience of Polish cities and regions may be inspiring for our partners in Ukraine.”

The Platform builds on the experience of the European Commission’s Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition, extending its scope by offering more opportunities to exchange ideas and knowledge via physical and virtual learning opportunities.

“The Energy transition process affects everybody in the coal regions of Europe and finding solutions requires the inclusion of all regional actors”, said Catharina Sikow-Magny, Director of Internal Energy Market at the European Commission. “The best ideas often come from the regions, and the EU Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition is a clear example of how just transition initiatives promote the exchange of knowledge, strategy development, and project identification to assist coal regions in their energy transition.”

The timely and fair transformation of coal-heavy regions in Ukraine and the Western Balkans will certainly have a huge impact on Europe’s fossil-free future. Ukraine has the seventh-largest proven coal reserves in the world, estimated at 34.4 billion tonnes. In 2019 coal accounted for 28 per cent of the country’s electricity generation, but the National Energy Strategy of Ukraine envisages to decrease the share of coal in primary energy supply to 14 per cent by 2030 and the Government of Ukraine is currently working on a transition plan for its coal mining regions.

Countries in the Western Balkans have also started planning for a coal-free future. Montenegro has recently announced the cancellation of the Pljevlja II coal power plant project and the construction of Kosovo’s new 500 MW coal-fired power plant was also halted. However, lignite-fired power plants still constitute 97 per cent of electricity generation in Kosovo, 70 per cent in Serbia and Bosnia and more than half in North Macedonia. Their numbers indicate that an inclusive energy transition process in the region leading towards a clear coal phaseout date is much needed.

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