MEP Grzegorz Tobiszowski, former Secretary of State and Government Plenipotentiary for the restructuring of hard coal mining in Poland (left) and Mr. Tomasz Rogala, President of EURACOAL and Chairman of the Board, Polska Grupa Górnicza S.A.

This publication, prepared by EURACOAL members, tells the story of a vital fuel:  where coal comes from, what it is used for and the challenges it faces.  Presenting facts and figures on the coal industry, it covers not only the European Union, but also countries that participate in the Energy Community.

Since we drafted the last edition of Coal industry across Europe, the Paris Agreement of 2015 has been signed and the European Commission has published its Clean energy for all Europeans package of proposals which have now been enacted.  The package delivers on the commitments made by the European Union under the Paris Agreement.  It took months of negotiation before EU member states were able to agree to all the proposals, but the new laws will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy.  Central to the package remains the EU emissions trading system which will deliver the politically agreed reductions with certainty.

Towards the end of 2018, the European Commission presented its new strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050.  Now, under the European Green Deal tabled in December 2019, this vision is being turned into legislative proposals that will transform society.  Europeans must decide how committed they are to these ambitious proposals.  Achieving climate neutrality will not be an easy task as it goes far beyond what other regions of the world have offered, but the European coal industry is preparing itself for such change and welcomes the promised structural investments in the coal-mining regions.

HSE Šoštanj power plant, Velenje, Slovenia © Premogovnik Velenje, d.o.o.

To demonstrate the coal industry’s position as an important stakeholder, the coal-mining region of Silesia was pleased to host in December 2018 the 24th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Katowice (COP24).  Although the leaders of the ten economies responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions were absent – China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, Canada and Iran – the Katowice Rulebook was adopted.  It is a roadmap to implement the Paris Agreement and shows us that industrial decarbonisation is only one of the ways to tackle climate change;  forestry and farming are also important.  Unfortunately, no agreement was reached in Katowice or at COP25 in Madrid in December 2019 on the important issue of international emissions trading.  Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of a 1.5°C global warming was not universally endorsed, that target looks now to be achievable in Europe.

Those EU member states who depend heavily on coal, such as Poland, Czechia, Bulgaria, Germany and Greece, have all submitted to the European Commission their draft national energy and climate plans, including assumptions on their future energy mixes.  Following the cessation of subsidised hard coal mining in Germany and Spain at the end of 2018, as required under EU law, a growing number of countries are now expected to largely exit from coal and lignite use:  France in 2021, the United Kingdom in 2025, Greece in 2028 and Germany in 2038.  Other countries are likewise considering how and when to exit.

For this reason, the Coal Regions in Transition Platform, a welcome initiative of the European Commission, is gaining momentum.  Replacing coal with renewable energy sources or nuclear power will take time, but progress is being made.  Replacing the advantages of coal – its abundance, its affordability and its availability – is also a challenge, but one that can be met with massive investment in renewable energy sources and large-scale energy storage technologies.

The world is set to use around seven billion tonnes of coal each year through to 2040.  The success of the energy transition in the European Union will be important not only for the European citizens who must pay the cost of transition which, according to estimates by the European Commission, will run to an additional €175 billion to €290 billion per year from 2031 to 2050, but also for the citizens of the world who will watch this experiment with deep interest.  If it works, they will want to follow.  For the European regions with coal mines and coal power plants, it means finding at least €25 billion each year from 2021 to replace these assets and associated jobs.

With the above in mind, EURACOAL members organised an Energy Summit in October 2019, co‑operating with the Polish Ministry of Energy to formulate the expectations of the coal sector and the support needed to implement the energy transition in a way that builds on the coal value chain.  We invite you to read the summit declaration and lend your support to a sustainable energy transition.

Coal will be used for many decades to come.  While the volumes used by EU member states will continue to decline, meeting politically agreed emission-reduction targets, flexible and reliable coal-fired power generation will undoubtedly bring security to the energy transition and avoid an overdependence on fossil gas.

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