The Western Balkan countries have pledged to carry out a transition towards clean energy sources, but can they ensure that people whose livelihoods currently depend on coal-based electricity production and coal mining are not simply “dumped” and left behind? To make sure the energy transition is just, it needs to be gradual, according to participants in a high-level panel titled ‘What Does a Just Energy Transition Mean for the Energy Community?’ held as part of the first Energy Community Just Transition Forum.
In the welcome address of the online forum, Janez Kopač, Director of the Energy Community Secretariat, said that the social economic circumstances in the Contacting Parties are different from those of the European Union (EU), and that the decarbonization process in the Western Balkan will require a “Marshall Plan” for the region to help transition from coal in a relatively just way.
Kopač also noted that in the absence of carbon pricing, coal-based electricity production in the Western Balkans in increasing despite a decrease in consumption, and that the surplus is being sold to the EU. However, this is an illusion which cannot last, he said, warning that the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) that the EU is preparing to introduce could harm the integration of the region.
Kopač: income from carbon pricing must be used for transitional purposes
He said that the countries in the region need to introduce carbon pricing and that the income from this tax should be used for transitional purposes, such as energy efficiency, renewables, sustainable transportation, as well as for financial assistance to coal regions in transition.
Zorana Mihajlović, Minister of Mining and Energy of Serbia, which currently holds the Energy Community Presidency, said that Serbia and the Western Balkans can successfully follow the EU in the energy transition and emerge from the process as winners.
Mihajlović: a successful energy transition requires realistic goals and pace
To achieve this, according to her, it is necessary to set realistic goals and pace, and ensure the EU’s financial assistance. Cooperation between the countries of the region is also important, but their different starting positions need to be taken into account, according to Mihajlović, who was the keynote speaker at the event.
The green agenda should become a new model of growth, but this process requires a gradual transition towards a new structure of the energy sector, according to her.
Serbia’s vision for the future includes green energy and green mining, she said, adding that the newly adopted legislation in the fields of energy and mining has paved the way for the country to quickly improve its energy efficiency and attract new investments that will increase the share of renewable energy sources to at least 40% by 2040, and 50% by 2050.
Particularly important in this context are large and medium-sized hydropower plants, gas-fired power plants, the development energy storage capacities, as well as solar power plants, wind farms, and biogas power plants, she noted.
Rizvanolli: decisions must be carefully planned
Artane Rizvanolli, Minister of Economy of Kosovo*, said it is difficult to ensure a just energy transition in Kosovo*, where the coal sector employs some 7,000 people and accounts for 95% of electricity generation. She said that decisions must be carefully planned and that support from the EU is of crucial importance.
Rizvanolli also said that regional cooperation is important, because “we are all on the same boat.”
Lakićević: Serbia’s goal is to shut down most coal-fired power plants by 2050
Zoran Lakićević, State Secretary at the Ministry of Mining and Energy of Serbia, said that a draft of the country’s national energy and climate plan (NECP) should be ready by August, and that the goal is for a number of coal-fired power plants to be closed by 2030 and a majority of them by 2050.
He also said that there are a lot of opportunities to create new jobs in the energy efficiency sector, particularly in households.
Energy transition must be transparent and involve all stakeholders
Dragica Sekulić, Member of Parliament of Montenegro, said the energy transition process requires honesty and must include all stakeholders – governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as workers.
The social component is the biggest challenge, and trade unions must be involved in the process from the very beginning, according to Sekulić, Montenegro’s former economy minister.
People need to trust they won’t be simply dumped
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, echoed Sekulić’s comments, saying that the focus should be to build trust and that people must be involved and understand the transition plans. What is needed, according to her, is the trust that people will not be simply dumped.
Burrow also said that unions support the clean energy transition because “there can be no jobs on a dead planet.”
NGOs support the energy transition, but it must be well-planned
Also speaking at the panel was Alexandru Mustață from the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, who said that the NGOs support the energy transition, but that it needs to be gradual, and not carried out overnight.
The transition has to be well-planned and gradual in order to take care of the workers in the coal sector, according to him.