From cracked walls to climate neutrality - coal mayors talk at COP26

Posted on 10 November 2021

It’s easy to focus on the flash and glitter of leaders’ announcements and celebrities’ speeches at climate summits like COP26.
But what really matters to ordinary people, as we move towards a climate neutral world, is the way it impacts their own neighbourhoods.

Many communities are already grappling with extreme weather, food shortages, and the other impacts of climate change. Part of governments’ challenge is to ensure those areas are adequately supported.

Others are experiencing a different sort of change. Coal regions are seeing traditional livelihoods and social hubs disappear as fossil fuels are phased out.

While every coal mine or plant closure is a win for the climate, it is not necessarily a win for the local people.

Getting this right - ensuring local people are provided with sustainable, decent new jobs - is critical to making climate action a success. This is the core of the just transition.

At COP26 in Glasgow in the UK, WWF’s Regions Beyond Coal project - supported by the German environment ministry, EUKI - brought some of these issues together.

At an event open to the public, we showed a short documentary which told the stories of coal mining regions in Germany, Poland, Greece and Bulgaria, and the people who live there. 

Over 100 people were in the room (following social distancing rules) and over 1,500 have been online to watch the film, and hear speeches and a panel moderated by WWF-Scotland director Lang Banks. 

He shared his memories of childhood visits to Lanarkshire near Glasgow and seeing former mining areas, while Glasgow councillor Angus Millar, who was a speaker at the event, explained the city’s climate plans and its net zero goal. 

While Scotland’s mines have all closed down, the same is not yet the case in the EU. Michal Bieda, Deputy Mayor of Bytom, Poland showed through striking photos the damage coal mining has done to buildings and water supplies in his city. Now however, Bytom council plans to revitalise former mining areas through a combination of EU and private financing.

Stefan Krastev, Deputy Mayor of Pernik, Bulgaria, spoke at the event as well. He outlined his vision for how his city can get beyond coal in a sustainable way. The Pernik council wants to  diversify the local economy, making it much more circular. They want to create jobs and improve well-being, and go for climate neutrality.

The visions and ambitions expressed by the two deputy mayors are exactly what is needed. In fact in Europe, regions are often more ambitious on exiting coal in a socially fair way than national governments, said Miloslawa Stepien from CEE Bankwatch, who was also on the panel. 

What’s more, they now have new opportunities to help fund this crucial social fair shift away from coal. WWF’s Katie Treadwell explained the EU just transition fund - which is €17.5 billion and aims to leverage much more in private finance - and how important good, science-based local plans are to access it. However, it is crucial that these plans include an end-date for coal for 2030 at the latest, are transparent and drawn up through consultation with everyone concerned, she said. Otherwise, the European Commission must ask for those plans to be revised. 

Sarah Azau
Communications and media manager 
Tel: +32 473 57 31 37
Deputy mayor of Bytom, Poland, Michal Bieda talks to The Guardian at COP26
© WWF EPO / Sarah Azau