The Paris Agreement dictates that at some point the European Union will have to completely phase-out coal. While politicians were eager to accept this provision, there are many who were skeptical of the possibility and other who outright think it would be impossible.
For example, in Germany trade unions and energy companies ardently oppose the switch from coal power, as do those who work in the industry. In the wake of the 2017 German elections, in which Angela Merkel won a narrow victory, citizens are expecting some sort of provision to phase out coal in the new government coalition agreement.
Add to this the recent news that Italy has committed to phasing out coal, and it would seem Europe, ready or not, is beginning to act on their words.
Those working in the coal industry are worried, especially those who rely on mining for employment. Memories about the struggles involved with re-unification are still fresh, especially in the East as well as in the Ruhr area.
During the rebuilding of Eastern Germany, many years of hard work and nearly countless Euros were spent to revive the area. Today it is clear the project was a success, but the toil and hardship survived by the people there stand as a strong signal of just how bad things could get for coal miners.
The single largest issue, according to a policy advisor for E3G’s Berlin office, Jonathan Schwartzkopff, would be job creation. Sustainability in the Ruhr and in Eastern Germany has only been attained through growth in the employment rates in those areas.
Policy makers in Germany and throughout Europe must remember the cash injection the German coal industry got in 1973, during the oil crisis. The few jobs created were not sustainable, and eventually the industry had to cut those same jobs again.
For places such as Italy who are tackling the coal phase out, they must remember to act, not re-act. By funneling money into schemes that do not solve underlying issues, only surface ones, they would be wasting finances and also hurting citizens in the process.
With European Parliamentary elections due in 2019, just after Brexit, EU voters will have to keenly monitor the coal situation. The election will also give the EU, and their member-states, the time to sort out their priorities and create a lasting plan for the phase out of coal.
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