Coal phase-out and current energy crisis

Coal phase-out and current energy crisis

April 8th, 2022

The Cowork4YOUTH project focuses on youth employment in less developed areas of the European Economic Area. In particular, it aims to evaluate the effectiveness of youth employment policies (such as the Youth Guarantee) in two types of areas: tourism-dependent coastal or insular regions; and regions in energy transition, coal phase-out or industrial decline. These regions are certainly very different, but share certain features, such as an over-reliance on a specific industry, that make them interesting from the point of view of employment policy implementation. 

It’s been years now that coal phase-out and the shift to renewable energy have been hot topics in Europe and around the world. The reasons do not need to be analysed here – hopefully we’re all aware of climate change and global warming and related issues such as desertification, rising sea levels, reduced agricultural production, climate refugees etc. It is in light of all this that European countries have made specific commitments for coal phase-out. The EU as a whole has committed to an overall reduction of CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Source: European Commission 

What is more pertinent to our project is that energy transition and decarbonisation are not simple, straightforward projects, but have their own financial and social complications. Coal extraction as well as coal-powered energy production and related industries are huge employers. Certain areas in particular, so called cola regions, have historically built their economy entirely around these industries. Moving away from them requires a whole new economic paradigm. The EU has acknowledged as much through the creation of the “Initiative for coal regions in transition”. A particularly difficult aspect of this transition is unemployment and that is where Cowork4YOUTH steps in: we focus on those whose livelihood depends on the jobs that are to be phased out, and evaluate the employment policies in place. We will also produce policy recommendations on this subject. 

However, 2022 has seen a major unpredicted event: besides the humanitarian issues, international security and political dimension of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war has also caused a serious disruption in the energy market. Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed, electricity bills have become increasingly difficult for consumers to pay, and the issue of energy self-reliance has suddenly become paramount for the EU. Amidst all this, we are not surprised to see more and more reports to the effect that the need to move away from Russian fuel supplies is causing European energy transition goals to slip by the wayside.

If you haven’t seen such news pieces and aren’t familiar with the rationale, here are a couple of examples:

Will green targets be sacrificed in race to solve Europe’s energy crisis?

Will the Ukraine war derail the green energy transition?

Obviously, this also changes the game when it comes to the workforce affected. On the one hand, this potential lease of life for the coal-dependent jobs could provide an opportunity to better prepare workers for the transition, e.g. through re-skilling programmes. They could also allow the regions themselves more time to prepare their infrastructure and governments more time to study and analyse the individual needs of regions. On the other hand, the delay could simply fuel social and political intransigence and be used as little more than an excuse to avoid a truly difficult political issue.

For us at Cowork4YOUTH these events mean two main things: firstly, the goals of evaluating existing employment initiatives, illuminating regional differences and proposing tailored proposals are even more important than before; it also means that our researchers might have a few more things to take into consideration in their analyses and recommendations!