Around 20 000 delegates and observers are expected in Katowice, Poland, in December this year, to negotiate the global response to climate change. The venue of this year’s COP  is part of an emblematic redevelopment project financed by the European Regional Development Fund  and implemented over the past eight years. The International Congress Centre where the delegates will discuss the follow-up to the Paris Agreement stands on the site of a former coal mine where the last tonne of coal was extracted less than 20 years ago.
Source: ©Chalabala - istockphoto.com
The city of Katowice will provide the perfect setting for discussions on the future of coal regions and on the future of workers which rely on the fossil-fuel economy. The challenge is substantial, as coal delivers almost half  of the electricity generated around the globe. In Europe, coal miners face an uncertain future due to declining coal consumption. Lessons from the past show that the socio-economic impacts of coal mine closures can be felt across generations.
The decline of coal production in Europe is nothing new. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that there are still 41 regions with active coal mining activities across 12 Member States. The coal industry is a major source of employment. It is estimated that the coal sector currently employs 237 000 people within the EU, the vast majority of whom work in coal mining. Another 215 000 indirect jobs are estimated to depend on coal activities. Coal
jobs present the particularity of being regionally concentrated. That is why coal mine closures, if not accompanied by long-term regeneration plans, risk drowning the affected regional economies. To give a sense of perspective, in the region of Silesia, which hosts this year’s COP, the coal sector provides over 80 000 jobs .
The challenge of enabling ‘just transition’ is likely to accelerate as the market for fossil fuels use shrinks year by year. In the period between 2014 and 2017, 27 coal mines were shut down across eight Member States, and more coal mines are expected to close before the end of 2018. Repercussions for employment can be serious. Indeed, an analysis carried out by the Commission Joint Research Centre  shows that 109,000 coal mining jobs are at risk due to the lack of competitiveness of coal mines in certain regions.
Member States and Regions play a leading role in designing and managing the transition on the ground in coal mining communities, but the EU has a clear role to play.
Commission services have been working with pilot coal regions over the past 18 months under the Coal Regions in Transition Initiative  in order to better understand the challenges, needs and potential for assistance at EU level. The Initiative was initially announced in the Clean Energy Package , which stressed the importance of enabling clean energy transition on the ground.
Today, the European Commission is working with 10 pilot coal regions in six Member States and operates a permanent multi-stakeholder Platform which helps to identify best practice, drawing lessons from previous transition experiences, and linking coal regions with project ideas, experts, funds and support programmes.
The Initiative aims to deliver on two objectives:
- First, to assist regions which rely on the fossil fuel economy in establishing tailor-made and forward-looking transition strategies.
- Second, to facilitate the identification and implementation of pilot projects which can kickstart the process of structural transformation, create jobs and facilitate environmental rehabilitation.
There are ample opportunities for funding and support for transition-related activities and projects at EU level through the European cohesion policy, including wellestablished funding mechanisms such as the European Regional Development Fund  and the European Social Fund , through the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund , the Structural Reform Support Service , the European Investment Advisory Hub , Horizon 2020 , the Research Fund for Coal and Steel , the EU Emissions Trading System mechanism  and LIFE programme . The Coal Regions in Transition Initiative is designed to connect coal regions with opportunities for support at EU level, whilst facilitating peer-to-peer learning and exchange of best practices.
Positive impacts can already be seen on the ground. Coal regions in Slovakia and Greece are benefiting from the support of the Structural Reform Support Service  in preparing tailor-made transition strategies. Priority projects are being identified in coal regions in Germany, Poland and Czech Republic for discussion with European Commission experts before the end of 2018. In the region of Silesia, cohesion and regional development funds are in the process of being re-prioritised to ensure that projects with the potential to kick-start the structural and technological transition of the region can be more easily co-funded from EU funds.
'The Coal Regions in Transition Initiative connects coal regions with opportunities for support at EU level, whilst facilitates peerto- peer learning and exchange of best practices'
Clean energy transition presents clear opportunities for coal regions and even for coal miners. Examples from the UK and USA show that former coal miners, especially those with technical training, can easily be employed in wind energy projects. The European Commission and the Secretariat for the Coal Regions in Transition Platform , to be established in time for COP241, will continue assisting coal regions to identify new opportunities for growth and to deliver more sustainable jobs in the future.
 It was 41% in 2014 according to https://www.iea.org/etp/tracking2017/coal-firedpower/
 Alves Dias et al., EU coal regions: opportunities and challenges ahead, JRC Science for Policy Report, 2018