Posted on 11 September 2020
The European Parliament has a chance to help free Europe’s regions from fossil fuels and support the creation of sustainable jobs.
On the week of 14 September, the European Parliament has a chance to help free Europe’s regions from fossil fuels and support the creation of sustainable jobs. MEPs will vote in plenary on the EUR17.5 billion Just Transition Fund, which aims to support EU regions such as the coal regions of Southwest Bulgaria’s and the Jiu Valley of Romania in their transition to climate neutrality.
The gas industry has been particularly busy lately, pandemic or no pandemic. Gas lobbyists have met with EU officials 49 times between March and July 2020 alone. It is no surprise that the industry is worried: the writing’s on the wall for fossil fuels. We are moving towards a zero carbon EU, and gas is terrible for the climate – leaked methane emissions can make it even worse than coal. Already, new gas infrastructure is not economically viable and there is far less demand for gas than previously estimated. Yet despite the facts, and with a crucial European Parliament vote just days away, the industry’s efforts appear to be paying off.
MEPs must overturn the regressive position of the Parliament’s Regional Affairs Committee, which voted in favour of gas being eligible for Just Transition funding. To the gas lobby, the concept of ‘fake news’ is all too familiar. It has been writing its own fake news for years, using its wealth and influence to portray itself as a clean and sustainable “transition fuel.” Polluting gas has no place in a climate neutral Europe and is not particularly effective for job creation.
The European Commission, EU Member States and the EU Committee of the Regions all oppose gas getting Just Transition funding.
“MEPs have a crucial choice. They can kick out fossil fuels and help Europe’s most vulnerable regions unlock the door to a sustainable future. Or they can take money away from those regions to give it to the polluting gas industry. Doing this would be a shocking betrayal both of European citizens and of the climate targets MEPs claim they endorse.” – Katie Treadwell, Energy Policy Officer, WWF European Policy Office
What does WWF want?
To truly deliver, the EU Just Transition Mechanism should do three key things:
- Exclude gas and other fossil fuels – only projects consistent with a sustainable and climate neutral Europe by 2040 should be financed;
- Require plans to be aligned with EU climate targets to access funds, reward climate ambition and include coal phase-out dates of 2030 latest, and gas phase-out dates of 2035 latest; and
- Encourage and enable effective partnerships by supporting transparency and meaningful engagement, including with civil society, local governments and trade unions.
Allowing the gas industry to get Just Transition Fund money would directly contradict the concept of a just transition to a zero carbon economy. Fossil gas has no role as a transitional fuel: it accelerates climate change and leaked methane emissions can make it worse for the climate than coal. There is also zero evidence that it would create many or decent jobs, while every $1 million (USD) invested in renewables creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels.
Last but not least, giving priority and money to gas projects would cement Europe’s future in a gas lock-in over the next 40-50 years and waste up to €29 billion of EU taxpayers’ money in stranded assets.Twenty-two organisations including WWF sent a letter on September 8 to the heads of the European political groups calling for the Parliament to reject any opening for fossil gas and ensure the fund prioritises support for Member States who have committed to an ambitious transition.
Just Transition in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) will contribute to achieving EU climate neutrality by 2050 and the local development of target regions by having a positive impact in all the important aspects of the transition process – social, economic and environmental. For example, the total coal reserves in Southwest Bulgaria are estimated to be relatively small – less than 15% of the country’s overall reserves; 5% of which is extracted. The two operational thermal power plants (TPPs) in the region, TPP Bobov Dol (Bobov Dol municipality) and TPP Republika (Pernik municipality) burn about 2.5% of the coal, and generate approximately 5% of Bulgaria’s annual electricity production. Closing down these two coal-fired power plants will leave an annual 903,781 MWh energy gap that will need to be filled by alternative sustainable sources.
A WWF study of the southwest coal region in Bulgaria provided 3 scenarios for possible development of the region. The analysis is an attempt to plan the future of coal regions in Bulgaria and to serve as a tool for policy planning and long-term strategic decision-making first in the districts of Pernik, Kyustendil, Blagoevgrad and Sofia (without the city of Sofia); mainly in the municipalities of Bobov Dol and Pernik, as well as the already two other non-operational mines in the region.
There are over 150 protected areas of all types in Southwest Bulgaria, including two of the country’s three national parks: Rila National Park (the largest in Bulgaria) and Pirin National Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). These conditions favour economic alternatives such as the development of various forms of tourism, organic farming, organic stock-breeding, sustainable forestry and fishing. Moving in this direction would also comply with the desire that economic activities should be compatible with the conservation of valuable species, habitats and nature in general. This fact should be a prerequisite for a sustainable future and be considered when deciding on alternative, Just Transition Mechanism-funded economic investments in the region.
For more information:
Chief Climate and Energy Expert, WWF-Bulgaria
Tel: +359 889 517 976
www.wwf.bg / www.climatebg.org