How can coal mining communities transform and recover in the face of a full-scale war? This was discussed by experts, government officials and representatives of coal mining communities at the 2nd Annual Ukrainian High-Level Forum on Just Transition “Reconstruction of Ukrainian coal mining communities in today’s conditions” on 18-19 October in Kyiv.
They discussed, among other things, how to take into account just transition of coal regions in the future reconstructure of Ukraine, ensure decent conditions for the return of citizens who have left, and ensure the country’s transition to cleaner and more sustainable renewable energy. The main ideas from the speakers’ speeches are described below.
One of the co-organisers of the event, the Head of the Luhansk Regional Human Rights Centre “Alternatyva”, stressed that the stakeholders gathered at the Forum not to start but to continue the processes that started in 2018. Back then, Alternatyva, together with NGOs Ecoaction and Germanwatch, started working with 6 coal communities in eastern Ukraine on their just transition. Now their number has grown to 20. The Forum brought together representatives of communities from 5 regions, including Luhansk region, where the last coal municipalities were occupied by Russia in 2022 and local self-government bodies were forced to evacuate. The Ambassador of Germany to Ukraine, Martin Jäger, also came to support the conference participants and delivered a welcoming speech.
In her opening speech, Oleksandra Azarkhina, Deputy Minister of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure of Ukraine, said that in November the government will return to the development of the State Target Program for the Just Transition of Coal Regions, which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2024. It will outline diversification methods and tools for the sustainable development of coal communities’ local economies, as well as support mechanisms from the government and partners.
How to incorporate a just transition of coal regions into the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine
Coal communities are now facing not only the need to transform their economies and prepare for the coal phase-out in power generation that the Ukrainian government has planned to implement by 2035. Most of them are also heavily impacted by the Russian war. Especially communities in the eastern regions, where some of them are under occupation or constant shelling. Therefore, just transition and reconstruction should take place in these regions in parallel.
So the first panel discussion of the Forum focused on how to synchronise these processes. Andrii Zalivskyi, mayor of Chervonohrad, noted that the priority for successful transformation is not even money, but people’s trust and open communication between communities and the central government. Without this he believes that the planned measures will not be effective. Nataliia Ivano, deputy head of the Pokrovsk military administration, added that effective interaction with the Ministry of Energy is especially important for communities.
Boris Raeder, representative of the GIZ Just Transition Ukraine management team, added that one of the key principles of just transition is to leave no one behind. It is necessary to understand who will be affected by it and to involve these people in the processes and create a common vision of the future. Adam Cwetsch, head of European Green Deal unit at the Energy Community, said that the National Energy and Climate Plan, which Ukraine is preparing as part of its European integration, should play an important role in this process. It should introduce accountability and inclusiveness in energy and climate policy in line with the European standards.
In addition, Ukraine is updating the State Strategy for Regional Development, said Olena Shuliak, Chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee for the Organization of the State Power, Local Self-Government, Regional Development and Urban Planning. This involves 300 specialists from various fields. It will contain, among other things, an action plan for 2024-2027 and will be submitted to the communities after approval by the government.
“There is a striking difference between the western and eastern coal regions of the country. In the east, we need not just a transformation but the recovery of the entire economy. And coal mining communities can become shining beacons of green reconstruction,” says Kostiantyn Krynytskyi, head of the energy department at Ecoaction.
What to do to create favourable conditions for the return of temporarily displaced persons
The Russian invasion has forced millions of people to flee their homes, especially in the eastern regions of the country. To return, they need not only victory but also decent living and working conditions. According to Svitlana Romanko, Executive Director of Razom We Stand, the full-scale war has destroyed 4.8 million jobs. At the same time, a study conducted jointly with the Resource and Analysis Centre “Society and Environment” showed that Ukraine has the potential to create 4.2 million green jobs.
Oleksii Babchenko, head of the Hirske military administration from Luhansk region, says that despite the occupation of the community, work is underway to develop a common vision of its future. 78% of the community’s population has been evacuated, but the local authorities are now keeping in touch with residents through humanitarian centres that have appeared in other parts of Ukraine.
Mr. Babchenko says that the community will have to start rebuilding from scratch, so the priority is to develop its logistical capacity. The community sees the development of culture and social rehabilitation as another important area of work. Yurii Yevsikov, deputy head of the Toretsk military administration, where critical infrastructure will also have to be restored first, said that the priority for community development is to retrain miners for construction jobs, as demand for them will increase in the course of the reconstruction.
For Novovolynsk, in Volyn region, the main strategic task is ensuring that residents do not want to leave the town, says mayor Borys Karpus. Therefore, he prioritises researching the needs of residents and adapting international experience of just transition to these needs and Ukrainian realities.
“Unfortunately, the deoccupied territories will be depressed. They need free economic zones and tax breaks. But it can take a long time to coordinate this with the EU because it has strict tax and antitrust legislation,” said Liubomyr Chornii, senior expert at the Centre for Public Expertise. Therefore, in his opinion, the country needs a plan for the formation of a new economy based on the European standards.
How to ensure the energy transition in today’s conditions
Coal mining towns are ready to work on the gradual coal phase-out and the transition to renewable energy, said Anatolii Vershyna, mayor of Pavlohrad, Dnipropetrovsk region. This is also confirmed by the mayor of Myrnohrad, Oleksandr Brykalov, who said that in 2018, with the support of NGOs Alternatyva, Ecoaction and Germanwatch, the town co-founded the Platform for Sustainable Development of Coal Towns of Donetsk Region, which helped to prepare for the phasing out of coal. But this work requires support from the government and international partners. Maryna Denysiuk, Senior Project Manager at the Reforms Delivery Office of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, says that the top priority of the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development is to prepare critical infrastructure for the heating season. However, in the future, we need to think about more active use of renewable energy in the regions, in particular, solar power stations for self-consumption. Legislation is being prepared by the end of the year to allow small producers to use the net-billing mechanism. This should stimulate the emergence of small installations that can help with the energy transition.
Yuliia Perchuk, head of the Reform Office at the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine, emphasised that a necessary step for the energy transition is to reduce energy consumption through energy efficiency. For this purpose, the Energy Efficiency Fund and its Energodim program, which reimburses 70% of the costs of thermal modernisation to apartment buildings, are working. The Ministry of of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development plans to approve a strategy for thermomodernisation of buildings until 2050 by the end of the year, which will focus on increasing the number of buildings with near-zero energy consumption, particularly among public buildings.
Martin Schön-Chanishvili, team leader at Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena), highlighted that not only the sources of electricity are important, but also the ability of the power system to cope with a large share of energy from renewables. Therefore, it is necessary to think about solutions for this challenge as well: smart grids, storage capacities, etc.
“Ukraine has a huge potential and we are starting to see that most communities are thinking about their energy independence and transition to renewable energy sources. Our task as the EU is to make these steps possible. The main task is to involve local resources, local businesses, local capabilities in this transition, in the implementation of these technologies,” said Torsten Wöllert, Minister-Counsellor at the EU Delegation to Ukraine. According to him, the EU is already working with Ukraine on a strategy for cooperation between national and local authorities.
At the end of the Forum, community representatives presented 8 project ideas that need additional funding. Some of the projects developed by coal municipalities before the full-scale invasion have lost their relevance, says Valerii Novykov, head of the Luhansk Regional Human Rights Centre “Alternatyva”. The communities created a working group, prepared a common concept of the role of just transition in reconstruction, and community representatives were trained in project management and developed project ideas. After all, in the process of reconstruction they will have new opportunities that they need to be prepared for.
On the second day of the Forum, community representatives also joined a workshop to learn about funding opportunities for potential projects and share their experience in planning and implementing them. As there is still a lot of work to be done at all levels: from national and local authorities to NGOs and people in the communities. And it is only the willingness to work together towards a common goal that will determine whether Ukraine will be able to recover as a more sustainable and modern country after the victory.
The Forum was organised in partnership with the Ministry of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development, the Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition in the Western Balkans and Ukraine, and in cooperation with the Agency for Reconstruction and Development within the framework of the project “New Energy – Facilitating Dialogue for Sustainable Development of Ukrainian Coal Regions”, implemented by partner organisations Germanwatch, Centre for Environmental Initiatives “Ecoaction”, Luhansk Regional Human Rights Centre “Alternatyva” with the support of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action of Germany in cooperation with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).