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WWF analysed coal regions in the Ruhr Region of Germany, Western Macedonia in Greece, Silesia in Poland, and the South West region of Bulgaria. These regions are at different stages of the transition - coal mining phase-out in the Ruhr had been planned for decades, whereas in South West Bulgaria, no planning is in place and the region is being left behind. WWF concluded that setting a deadline for ending coal, targeted financial support, and giving everyone their say is crucial for a sustainable economic regional shift towards climate neutrality.
Following the report's policy recommendations can help ensure a successful, socially responsible and sustainable move to net zero carbon emissions across Europe's coal regions.
"Coal regions have contributed to Europe's prosperity for decades. We need to make sure Europe's transition towards a net zero emissions economy does not happen at the expense of these regions. Local and national authorities have a key role to play and need to talk to those affected and ensure the right financial and policy support is there to allow a smooth path to a net zero emissions economy based on sustainable jobs for all." - Juliette de Grandpré, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF Germany
The launch of the report in Brussels was attended by, among others, a Bulgarian delegation of 2 mayors, a trade union representative, the chairwoman of the board of the Bobov Dol Thermal Power Plant, and the association of municipalities in support of the initiative.
Coal production in the Southwest Bulgaria began to decline in the 1980s because of the depletion of resources. As early as the 1970s, Bulgaria started to develop its other lignite region in the southeast. The underground brown coal mines were closed down at the end of 2018, and the number of employees in the sector is steadily decreasing. However, no investments are being made to diversify the local economy and the industry sector has not been modernised for decades. A successful energy transition in Southwest Bulgaria requires the region to develop sustainable economic activities. Reskilling the workforce is a major tool for enhancing and retaining labour force and fighting low income and unemployment in the region.
"If we do not want the energy transition to lead Bulgaria into a debt crisis like in Greece, or to bring a sharp increase in electricity prices for all consumers, then the responsible institutions and politicians in the country should stop misleading the people in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria (the biggest coal region ) that coal has NO future, Instead, they should initiate a targeted sustainable economic development programme in that region as soon as possible; before the closure of the facilities there. This cannot happen if we do not know what year coal will be phased-out or when the closure of thermal power plants is planned. More importantly, what will we replace coal with - both in terms of economic activities and energy supply? - Georgi Stefanov, Head of Climate and Energy Practice at WWF Bulgaria.
The urgent need to help regions move to clean sectors is reflected in the European Commission's proposal for a Just Transition Mechanism in January 2020. The financial mechanism would support workers and their communities in regions whose economies are based on carbon-intensive activities like coal mining. It consists of three pillars: a grant-giving pillar (the €7.5 billion Just Transition Fund), a pillar to leverage private funds (the InvestEU guarantee) and a public sector loan facility. Most of the aspirational €100 billion, however, will need to be leveraged through the private sector. Co-financing from the cohesion policy also makes up a significant part.
- Set a phase-out date for coal as early as possible, followed by an agreed and consensual, timeline based transition strategy. Setting a clear timeline with a binding and ambitious phase-out date for coal provides certainty to investors; avoiding the creation of stranded assets and lowering the overall costs of the transition.
- Ensure timelines and strategies are based on high-quality, quantitative analysis, guided by a commitment to sustainability. To be meaningful, effective and have the greatest chance of success, just transition strategies and plans should be informed by quantified, transparent and objective analysis. They should also be formulated with the aim to achieve true environmental sustainability in order to ensure that the transition is durable.
- Ensure adequate, targeted financial and policy support for the transition using EU as well as national funds. The transition requires upfront investment, which cannot always be made by investors alone. Long-term policy support and frameworks, supported by dedicated public financing are necessary to leverage the sustained investment required for a just and sustainable transition.
- Aim for real economic diversification. A diverse collection of smaller businesses and industries provides resilience to economic change, with big economic changes having a lower impact on overall employment and the GDP. Diversification should be on the basis of environmental sustainability to ensure it will deliver long-term, quality jobs.
- Engage all stakeholders in an ongoing process, especially at the local level. The involvement of local stakeholders can determine whether the transition succeeds or whether it is delayed, resisted and derailed. Local stakeholders and communities are more likely to buy into the strategies and will support their implementation if they are the driving force behind developing them. Local communities have unrivalled insight into their needs and desires, even if on their own they do not have the resources or expertise to actualise them. Failing to involve local communities will risk missing essential information into their needs, desires and strengths and can drive resistance to change.
The Just Transition Project
Local authorities and leaders from 40 regions have been mobilising themselves to ensure a just transition. In September 2018, a first "Forum of Mayors on Just Transition" took place in Kozani, Greece. This is a bottom-up initiative - initially involving representatives from six Member States - and aims to enable the sharing of experience and knowledge between those affected by the transformation. This was followed by a second Forum in September 2019 hosted by the mayor of Weißwasser, Germany at which a Declaration was signed by over 61 mayors calling for EU support, underlining the mayors' commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and asking for support to make just transition a reality.
For more information:
Climate and Energy Practice Lead,
Tel: +359 889 517 976 |
The other three regions in WWF's report:
The Ruhr in Germany
Germany's coal region 'par excellence', the sector employed 600,000 people at its peak in the 1950s. (The coal also made the air so bad people were advised not to hang their washing outside.) But then as cheaper coal from outside Europe started to take over, the federal government set up a 'Ruhr Development Programme (EPR) in 1968 for a socially responsible reduction of coal jobs. This was followed by regional funding programmes. The programmes focused on infrastructure and promotion of the scientific landscape, as well as the conversion of former industrial facilities into accommodation and cultural centres, such as the Zollverein in Essen, which is today a World Cultural Heritage Site. In 2007, the German Government decided to phase out subsidies and close the last hard coal mine by 2018. This officially sealed the end of hard coal mining in Germany.
Western Macedonia in Greece
Since the mid-1950s, lignite (brown coal) mining has been the main economic activity in the area. Unemployment - already high at 28% - is expected to skyrocket due to the anticipated decommissioning of existing lignite plants. The Greek Prime Minister recently announced the retirement of all lignite plants by 2028 at the latest. This will be hugely beneficial for public health, the environment and the climate (lignite is responsible for 34% of Greek greenhouse gas emissions). However, it will pose a challenge for the local societies and regional economy if the transition to a sustainable economy is not well designed.
Silesia in Poland
Upper Silesia is the biggest hard coal region in Europe, with over 20 active mines and 72,000 direct jobs. However, a drastic decline in hard coal extraction is coming for economic reasons - Poland increasingly imports cheaper Russian coal. Cultural attachment to the coal legacy is strong: politicians promise to "save" Silesian coal mining to win votes. The challenge in Upper Silesia is about a lack of proper long-term planning, social dialogue and a commitment to phase out coal. Since approximately 50,000 permanent jobs in the region will be gone within a decade, miners and people employed in the coal sector require a special focus. Failure to address the cultural and social position of coal will have an impact on Poland's energy transformation and the region's economy. It will also have severe consequences for coal-mining municipalities and livelihoods of miners and their families
WWF analysed four coal regions in depth, in Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and Greece. Based on this, WWF identifies setting a deadline for ending coal, targeted financial support, and giving everyone their say as crucial for a sustainable regional shift towards climate neutrality.
The new report comes as the EU prepares to discuss its proposed 'Just Transition Mechanism' to help regions get climate-neutral by leveraging EUR100 billion. The report and accompanying short film are being launched at WWF's just transition event in Brussels on 19 February.
Juliette de Grandpré, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF Germany said:
"Coal regions have contributed to Europe's prosperity for decades. We need to make sure Europe's transition towards a net zero emissions economy does not happen at the expense of these regions. Local and national authorities have a key role to play and need to talk to those affected and ensure the right financial and policy support is there to allow a smooth path to a net zero emissions economy based on sustainable jobs for all."
Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office said:
"Getting the just transition right in our coal mining regions is one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – of the next decade. Europe must prove its commitment to social justice - from committing to rapidly end coal, to providing financial support - to ensure we all move together to climate neutrality before mid-century."
WWF's report looks at the Ruhr region of Germany, Western Macedonia in Greece, Upper Silesia in Poland, and the South West region of Bulgaria. These regions are at different stages of the transition - coal mining phase-out in the Ruhr had been planned for decades, whereas in South West Bulgaria, no planning is in place and the region is being left behind. However, following the report's EU and regional policy recommendations can help ensure a successful, socially responsible and sustainable move to net zero carbon emissions across Europe's coal regions.
Read the report
Watch the short documentary from the four regions
More on the 19 February event in Brussels
WWF's recommendations in more detail
Set a phase-out date for coal as early as possible, followed by an agreed and consensual, timeline based transition strategy
Setting a clear timeline with a binding and ambitious phase-out date for coal provides certainty to investors; avoiding the creation of stranded assets and lowering the overall costs of the transition
Ensure timelines and strategies are based on high-quality, quantitative analysis, guided by a commitment to sustainability
To be meaningful, effective and have the greatest chance of success, just transition strategies and plans should be informed by quantified, transparent and objective analysis. They should also be formulated with the aim to achieve true environmental sustainability in order to ensure that the transition is durable.
Ensure adequate, targeted financial and policy support for the transition using EU as well as national funds
The transition requires upfront investment, which cannot always be made by investors alone. Long-term policy support and frameworks, supported by dedicated public financing are necessary to leverage the sustained investment required for a just and sustainable transition.
Aim for real economic diversification
A diverse collection of smaller businesses and industries provides resilience to economic change, with big economic changes having a lower impact on overall employment and the GDP. Diversification should be on the basis of environmental sustainability to ensure it will deliver long-term, quality jobs
Engage all stakeholders in an ongoing process, especially at local level
The involvement of local stakeholders can determine whether the transition succeeds or whether it is delayed, resisted and derailed. Local stakeholders and communities are more likely to buy into the strategies and will support their implementation if they were the driving force behind developing them. Local communities have unrivalled insight into their needs and desires, even if on their own they do not have the resources or expertise to actualise them. Failing to involve local communities will risk missing essential information into their needs, desires and strengths and can drive resistance to change.
The four regions in WWF's report - more info:
The Ruhr in Germany:
Germany's coal region 'par excellence', it employed 600,000 people at its peak in the 1950s. (The coal also made the air so bad people were advised not to hang their washing outside.) But then as cheaper coal from outside Europe started to take over, the federal government set up a 'Ruhr Development Programme (EPR) in 1968 for a socially responsible reduction of coal jobs. This was followed by regional funding programmes. The programmes focused on infrastructure and promotion of the scientific landscape, as well as the conversion of former industrial facilities into accommodation and cultural centres, such as the Zollverein in Essen, which is today a World Cultural Heritage Site. In 2007, the german government decided to phase out subsidies and close the last hard coal mine by 2018. This officially sealed the end of hard coal mining in Germany.
Western Macedonia in Greece:
Since the mid 1950s, lignite (brown coal) mining has been the main economic activity in the area. Unemployment - already high, at 28% - is expected to skyrocket due to the anticipated decommissioning of existing lignite plants: recently, the Greek Prime Minister announced the retirement of all lignite plants by 2028 at the latest. This will be hugely beneficial for public health, the environment and the climate (lignite is responsible for 34% of Greek greenhouse gas emissions). However, it will pose a challenge for the local societies and regional economy if the transition to a sustainable economy is not well designed.
Silesia in Poland:
Upper Silesia is the biggest hard coal region in Europe, with over 20 active mines and 72,000 direct jobs. However a drastic decline in hard coal extraction is coming for economic reasons, which is why Poland increasingly imports cheaper Russian coal. Cultural attachment to coal legacy is strong: politicians promise to 'save' Silesian coal mining to win votes. The challenge in Upper Silesia is about a lack of proper long-term planning, social dialogue and a commitment to phase out coal. Miners and people employed in the coal sector require special focus as approximately 50,000 permanent jobs will be gone within a decade in the region. Failure to address the cultural and social position of coal will have an impact on Poland's energy transformation and the region's economy. It will also have severe consequences for coal-mining municipalities and livelihoods of miners and their families.
South-West region of Bulgaria:
Coal production in the South-West region of Bulgaria began to decline in the 1980s because of the depletion of resources. As early as the 1970s, Bulgaria started to develop its other lignite region in the South-East. The underground brown coal mines were closed down at the end of 2018, and the number of employees in the sector is steadily decreasing. However, no investments are being made to diversify the local economy and the industry sector has not been modernised for decades. A successful energy transition in South-West Bulgaria requires the region to develop sustainable economic activities. Reskilling the workforce is a major tool for enhancing and retaining labour force and fighting low income and unemployment in the region.
Over 40 regions getting active on just transition
Local authorities and leaders have been mobilising themselves to ensure a just transition. In September 2018, a first 'Forum of Mayors on Just Transition' took place in Kozani, Greece. This is a bottom-up initiative - initially involving representatives from six Member States - and it aims to enable the sharing of experience and knowledge between those affected by the transformation. This was followed by a second Forum hosted by the mayor of Weißwasser, Germany, in September 2019, attended by 16 European mayors. It was at the second forum that a Declaration was signed by over 40 mayors calling for EU support, underlining the mayors' commitment to the Paris Agreement and asking for support to make just transition a reality. Now the Declaration has over 60 signatories.
More information: www.regionsintransition.eu
The EU Just Transition Mechanism
The urgent need to help regions move to clean sectors is reflected in the European Commission's proposal for a 'Just Transition Mechanism' in January 2020. The Mechanism aims to mobilise €100 billion to support workers and their communities in regions whose economies are based on carbon-intensive activities, like coal mining. It consists of three pillars: a grant-giving pillar (the €7.5 billion Just Transition Fund), a pillar to leverage private funds (the InvestEU guarantee) and a third 'public sector loan facility' pillar. Most of the aspirational €100 billion, however, will need to be leveraged through the private sector, and co-financing from the cohesion policy also makes up a significant part. See WWF's reaction to the proposal.
Head of Climate and Energy
WWF European Policy Office
+32 2 743 88 18
WWF European Policy Office
+32 473 573 13
More than 50 business leaders, representing major international and Bulgarian companies, participated in the event. The programme began with a screening of Our Planet: Frozen Worlds, an episode of the popular Netflix documentary Our Planet. Filmed in 50 countries on all of the continents for over 3500 shooting days, the series includes never before seen footage of natural wonders and reveals how we could create a future where people and nature thrive together.
The event continued with a free discussion between the WWF-Bulgaria team and the guests. The meeting was called "Our Planet: Our Business" under the eponymous title of the additional episode of the Our Planet series. The episode focuses attention on the urgent need for collaboration between business and scientists on behalf of our planet. With two Emmy Awards for Best Documentary and Best Storyteller for the emblematic British environmentalist Sir David Attenborough, Our Planet is a celebration of the amazing creatures we share our common home with. But apart from admiring the unique biodiversity on Earth, we also should think seriously about the enormous pressure we are putting on it.
"Today we have the knowledge, the resources and the ability to reverse the trend. We still could guarantee healthy nature and a healthy planet for our children. 2020 is a critical year for the climate. Very high-level forums are forthcoming. Key decisions will be taken for tackling the climate crisis," said Vesselina Kavrakova, CEO of WWF-Bulgaria. "As the inspirational environmentalist Sir David Attenborough says: What we do in the next ten years will profoundly impact the next few thousand. Until now, nature determined how we survive; now we determine how nature survives."
The screening took place a few days before the long-awaited WWF Global Future Report 2020 was released. The report warns that the loss of biodiversity caused by unsustainable business practices will deprive the world economy of more than 479 billion USD annually, or $ 9.9 trillion by mid-century. Experts estimate that the amount is equivalent to the combined economies of the United States, France, India and Brazil.
The event ended with a call to businesses to join WWF's landmark global climate initiative – Earth Hour on March 28; when millions of people around the world will turn off their lights for one hour to show their steadfast commitment to protecting nature.
Previous Our Planet screenings were organised for business leaders last year by WWF-Hungary; and WWF-Romania with The Coca-Cola Foundation as part of our Living Danube Partnership. The Partnership is reconnecting former floodplains to the Danube River system and restoring wetlands in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as a project in Austria to increase river capacity by the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools (12 million m³) and to restore 53 km² of wetland habitat by the end 2020. The seven year cooperation between WWF and The Coca-Cola Foundation is just one example of how civil society and business can work together for positive change. Together possible!
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Corporate Partnerships Officer,
Chris Johnson, senior manager of WWF's Antarctic Programme said: "Antarctica is under increasing pressure from climate change. Iconic wildlife are at a critical crossroads but we have still have an opportunity to take action. Protecting nature is part of the solution to fight back. As governments around the world are making commitments to fight the climate crisis at home, we must deliver on commitments to establish networks of marine protected areas around Antarctica – creating a safety net for wildlife. We can provide space for nature to adapt to current and projected changes, safeguarding Earth's biodiversity for future generations."
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF's global climate and energy practice said: "News that the Antarctic has just recorded its hottest day on record -- just days after scientists said Europe had experienced its hottest month on record and barely a month after scientists said 2019 was the second hottest year on record – is yet another signal that we must accelerate and scale up our efforts to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must end new coal and peak carbon emissions by 2020, cut global emissions in half by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Countries must update their national climate plans this year. These must be ambitious and aligned with science to limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels."
Climate change is the greatest threat to the future of our societies and economies. All the science points to worsening risks from extreme floods, droughts, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. But the climate crisis is not just a future threat. Climate change is already affecting water resources and exacerbating water-related risks across the globe, with impacts being felt by communities, corporations and countries.1
In Europe, these rising risks are occurring on a landscape that has already been dramatically altered by people – including in ways that exacerbate these challenges, such as the loss of floodplains, channelling of rivers and rampant coastal development. Increasingly, it seems as if the forces of nature are arrayed against our homes, businesses and economies – and that traditional responses can no longer hold back the tide, floods or droughts. The answer involves a greater focus on harnessing the power of nature to help increase our resilience and reduce these risks – by investing in Nature-based Solutions (NbS).
On World Wetlands Day (Feb. 2), we must recognise that all of these changes are part of a widespread loss of ecosystems and biodiversity on the continent, including the destruction of 56% of its natural wetlands. However, we must also celebrate what WWF Central and Eastern Europe and its partners are doing to rectify the situation.
Over the past 150 years the rivers and wetlands in the Danube Basin have been heavily impacted by human activity. The main threats stem from unsustainable flood protection infrastructure, hydropower, navigation and drainage of lands due to intensive agricultural practices. The resulting dikes, dams, drainage and dredging activities have straightened large parts of the rivers, and cut off and dried out their floodplains. Overall, more than 80% of the Danube's and its tributaries' wetlands have been lost, and with them, the ecosystem services they provide to people like flood protection, fish production, drought mitigation, recreation, livelihoods and biomass.
WWF Central and Eastern Europe's ambitious Living Danube Programme in cooperation with the Coca-Cola Foundation has been working to restore and reinvigorate some of the Danube's wetlands by reconnecting former floodplains to the river system by opening dams, improving water supply channels, as well as retaining water on the floodplains by working closely with relevant local authorities and stakeholders since 2014. The aim is to increase the water retention capacity by the equivalent of 4,800 Olympic sized swimming pools (12 million m³) and to restore over 7,422 football pitches worth of wetland habitat (53 km²) by 2020 by restoring wetlands in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Austria.
As part of the Living Danube Partnership, and with additional financial support of EU LIFE, two barriers were removed and a new fish pass was constructed in Rusenski and Cherni Lom, Bulgaria. The pioneering project is being used to pilot and promote good practice in design and construction of fish passes in Bulgaria in order to permit the free movement of fish and restore endangered fish populations. Project activities have also included re-stocking of fish populations and significant education and awareness-raising. WWF-CEE and its local partners' work in the Persina and Kalimok wetlands of Bulgaria, part of Lower Danube Green Corridor, has resulted in the recovery of 3,700 ha of wetlands and a freshwater replenishment potential of 7 million m3.
Another great result of the Living Danube Programme is in the Neusiedler See National Park, Austria. Soda or alkaline lakes found in the national park are a rare type of wetland that supports unusual wildlife, including seabirds many kilometres from the sea. In Europe, they only exist in the Pannonian Basin, stretching from eastern Austria across Hungary to Serbia. Hundreds of the lakes have lost their unique character due to man-made interventions, including drainage. By installing a system of sluices, the level of groundwater was raised, preventing some of the soda lakes from drying out. The successfully completed project has inspired local stakeholders to undertake additional interventions to save other soda lakes in the area.
Construction work to reconnect the floodplain in Garla Mare, and Vrata in Romania to the Danube is set to begin this year. To date, 5 Living Danube wetland restoration projects in Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and Austria have been completed and 4 in Croatia, Romania and Hungary are ongoing.
Since we can only tackle Europe's worsening water-related challenges by employing a diverse range of solutions with a basin perspective and in an integrated way, it is essential to prioritise nature-based solutions that use natural systems or processes to help achieve a societal goal, such as managing water supplies or reducing disaster risk for people.
While conventional infrastructure approaches can often cause negative impacts on other resources and values, a hallmark of NBS is that they provide a range of other benefits to people and nature and thus can help tackle today's other great global crisis – the loss of the biodiversity, including an 83% collapse in freshwater species populations on average since 1970. NbS can also contribute to the achievement of other international objectives, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement.
Although most of Europe features extensive infrastructure and water-management systems, the continent still confronts a number of water-related challenges that are projected to intensify with climate change. Indeed, economic losses in Europe caused by extreme climate and weather-related events soared to around €14 billion per year between 2000 and 2015.
Using NbS to address these challenges can also help restore nature across Europe – boosting efforts to achieve other critical policy objectives, including the attainment of good ecological status for all rivers and other waters under the Water Framework Directive (currently 60% are in bad health) and helping Europe lead the transition to a healthy planet, as outlined in the European Commission's new Green Deal.
Nature-based solutions are key to planning for the following five objectives across Europe:
- Reducing risk from extreme river flooding
Along with non-structural measures, such as improved zoning and building codes, there needs to be much greater investment in NbS, which can reduce the impact of extreme floods by slowing runoff (i.e. by protecting natural forests, restoring wetlands and adopting best agricultural practice) and lowering flood levels (i.e. by preserving and restoring floodplains, dike setbacks and floodways), while also helping to restore floodplain ecosystems, which are among the most productive and diverse habitats on the planet.
One case study in this report focusses on the Elbe River, which has experienced extreme flooding several times this century despite an array of dikes and floodwalls. Working in the Lödderitzer oak forest, WWF and partners removed the existing dike and built a new one further from the river. Along with restoring around 600 hectares of the most important floodplain habitat in Central Europe, this NbS is expected to reduce flood levels by nearly 30cm for a 100-year flood for 8km upstream of the project site, providing a considerable reduction in flood risk for the city of Aken.
- Reducing the risk of flooding in cities
For example, the LIFE-MICACC Project2 in which WWF-Hungary is a project partner, aims to help the smallest and most vulnerable Hungarian settlements prepare for climate change. A 1 ha side-reservoir was created beside the Szilágyi Stream which helps retain water from flash-flood events. As such, it is capable of protecting both village infrastructure from flash flooding, and mitigates summer droughts and heatwaves by replenishing groundwater resources and cooling the micro-climate through evaporation. On the upper watershed, leaky wooden check-dams were installed in erosional gullies to halt soil erosion and decrease the speed at which water rushes into the settlement.
- Managing water scarcity and reducing risk from droughts
The LIFE-MICACC Project also constructed the first two nature-based water retention measures in Hungary. At Ruzsa, another project site situated on the elevated sand ridge running between the Duna and Tisza Rivers (Homokhátság), water is extremely scarce. The minuscule rainfall in the area is quickly drained by sandy soils. Precipitation has been decreasing for decades, and the old drainage canal created in the 1970s still drains any excess water away from the area that may appear. Any available surface water is a treasure here, even treated sewage and other effluents from water purification plants. A small lake was created in the middle of the settlement to retain effluent water from a nearby drinking water purification plant.
- Improving water quality
WWF-Finland, with funding from the EU, constructed 30 wetlands in highly agricultural river basins. They were designed to increase water retention, reducing the runoff from fields and erosion of streambanks, and thus cutting the amount of sediment and agricultural nutrients being washed into streams, rivers and the Baltic Sea.
As these examples show, Nature-based Solutions have considerable potential to improve land and water management and to reduce water-related risks. But despite the multiple benefits that NbS can provide, currently less than 1 per cent of total investments in water-management infrastructure is allocated toward NbS. European countries and companies must urgently increase investment in NbS to build more resilient societies, economies and ecosystems.
- Reducing risk from coastal flooding or erosion
WWF points the way forward
- The European Commission must ensure that the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 includes legally- binding targets for restoring wetlands, peatlands and floodplains; strengthen the implementation of the Water Framework Directive so that all surface and ground waters will be in good status by 2027; and launch a large-scale deployment of NbS for water management to enhance the natural treatment of pollution, sustain biodiversity, and increase resilience to climate change.
- European Union Member States must integrate NbS into river basin as well as flood risk management plans; and protect the remaining free-flowing stretches of rivers for their biodiversity, ecological and societal values.
- Private sector companies must adopt water stewardship, beginning by assessing their water risks and then developing a strategy that mitigates them, including promoting the individual and collective application of NbS where possible.
- The financial sector must better understand water risk and how to account for it when valuing investments; engage with existing efforts and start to create offerings that finance NbS; and support policy that lays the foundation for credible green investments.
Europe's past features a dramatic loss of nature. Along with diminishing the continent's wildlife, the loss of forests, wetlands and floodplains has increased the risks from flooding, drought, and poor water quality. Climate change will exacerbate these risks – even if we succeed in holding the rise in global temperature to under 1.5 degrees.
We do not suggest that NbS are the sole solution to water-related challenges, but they should be prioritised because they have the potential to restore some of the losses of the past, while reducing the risks of the future. NbS provide diverse benefits that will help communities, corporations and countries to increase resilience and adapt to climate change, especially when NbS are planned and implemented at a river basin scale and in an integrated way across sectors.
Similar to advice on how to be a savvy investor, those managing rising climate risks should strive for a "diversified portfolio approach" that integrates NbS with more conventional solutions. In a warming world, we risk seeing nature's power as only a threat. By investing in Nature-based solutions, we also get nature's power on our side.
Laurice Ereifej, Regional Freshwater Lead, WWF Central and Eastern Europe, firstname.lastname@example.org
Klara Kerpely, WWF-Hungary, email@example.com, Tel: +36 30 233 7368
Mátyás Farkas, WWF-Hungary, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +36 30 341 1949
Project website of LIFE-MICACC Project: https://vizmegtartomegoldasok.bm.hu/en
Related article: Climate Change Poses New Water Management Challenges
1 According to the WWF report Good Water Management: The Heart of Europe's Drought Response, issued in July 2019, EU Member States' poor management of rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater is worsening the impacts of climate change, like more severe droughts. Out of the 419 cities worldwide analysed, the CEE Region's capitals are at rather high risk compared to others globally. In terms of water scarcity and drought Kiev is ranked the 95th most at risk, followed by Bucharest (101), Budapest (171) and Sofia (278).
2 Other project partners include the Ministry of Interior of Hungary, Municipality of Bátya, Municipality of Püspökszilágy, Municipality of Rákócziújfalu, Municipality of Ruzsa, Municipality of Tiszatarján, Association of Climate-Friendly Municipalities, General Directorate of Water Management and PANNON Pro Innovation Services Ltd.
An increase of the EU's 2030 climate target is urgently needed, and must be in place well ahead of COP26 in Glasgow taking place in November 2020. Despite this opportunity, the Commission's work programme foresees the publication of its proposal to increase the 2030 target only in the third quarter of 2020, following an impact assessment. This will make taking a decision in time to inspire others and show leadership before the international climate negotiations much more challenging. WWF calls on co-legislators to bring about an agreement of a 2030 target of at least 65% emission cuts well before COP26, including as part of the soon to be proposed Climate Law.
"The current 2030 climate target is not in line with science. It is outdated, and it must be increased to avoid further lock-in to dirty energy and high carbon production and consumption. With clear and early leadership on the global stage, the EU can play a crucial role in pushing other countries to update their NDC in the run-up to COP26. But it is not enough to deliver the work at home right before the COP. The EU has a responsibility to show early on that it leads on implementing the Paris Agreement domestically by taking a decision for higher ambition. This proposed timeline will not allow us to reap the benefits of an early move for more global climate action before this crucial round of international negotiations," said Ester Asin, Director of the WWF European Policy Office.
The programme is missing details on next steps to put in place regulatory measures to promote imported products and value chains that do not involve deforestation and forest degradation - a commitment from the Green Deal. Just in January of this year, the European Parliament urged the Commission to come forward with a proposal for a legal framework based on due diligence to ensure deforestation-free supply chains.
WWF welcomes the Commission's commitment to put the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the heart of its policy making, and its intention to present an approach to the overall governance and implementation of the SDGs, in line with the requests by both the European Parliament and Member States for an overarching implementation strategy. Unfortunately the initiative is not reflected in the annexes, casting doubts about how serious committed von der Leyen is to the full implementation of the SDGs in Europe.
Ursula von der Leyen also continues her push to roll out the discredited 'One In, One Out' approach, potentially resulting in a weakening of existing standards and laws. WWF will remain vigilant to ensure that the Commission upholds its promise that this principle would not to lower social and ecological standards, and not be applied in a purely mechanical way.
On other proposals, the programme continues to follow the line and ambition as set out by the European Green Deal Communication of 11 December 2019. WWF's full reaction to the European Green Deal is available here.
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Even more exciting news: The EU Commission has opened a public consultation to shape Europe's climate action.
The consultation runs until 6 February - so NOW is YOUR chance to have your say and tell the European Commission what you think Europe should do to respond to the climate emergency. It's available in all EU languages.
Not sure where to start? Need a bit of inspiration? We've got you covered - or check out WWF's response directly!
What does climate action look like?
The EU climate law must:
- Cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 65% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2040, in line with science. And review these targets every five years.
- Ban all subsidies, tax breaks, advertising and other benefits for fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.
- Scrap or change any EU policies that aren't consistent with the EU's climate objectives.
- Set up an independent scientific body to scrutinise the EU's targets, and its plans and policies to tackle the climate emergency.
Together, we can make sure our voices are heard and Europe does all it can for a healthier, cleaner and safer planet.
See WWF and Greenpeace's 12 asks for the EU climate law
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WWF regrets that the Council today did not show any willingness to change the course of the ongoing CAP reform, maintaining contradictions such as the weakening of the basic environmental conditions attached to CAP subsidies. For instance, the Council is rejecting the inclusion of a "crop rotation" requirement under conditionality, when crop rotation is a critical and effective farming technique that reduces the use of pesticides and maintains healthy soils.
However, some countries did call for more ambitious goals for European farming. France were disappointed that there were no quantitative targets for pesticides reduction in the European Green Deal, while Spain underlined their commitment to achieving an agriculture with net zero GHG emissions before 2050. Nevertheless, these statements do not reflect the content of the latest drafting suggestions prepared by the Council, which contain no amendments to increase the environmental ambition of the CAP regulations proposed by the European Commision and instead water them down.
"Once again, the Agriculture Ministers flaunted the supposedly green credentials of the farming policy and its potential contribution to Von der Leyen's European Green Deal, whilst under-handedly stripping away basic elements of the green architecture of the future CAP" said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture at WWF European Policy Office. "Things could still change in the coming months, if forward-looking Ministers rise to the challenge and steer the Council debates in a different direction, transforming the CAP into a tool to support the transition to a greener, more sustainable Europe."
WWF calls on the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to take bold steps towards a successful European Green Deal, by making the following key changes to their position on the EU's Common Agricultural Policy post-2020:
CAP conditionality must be maintained, at the very least, at the level that the European Commission proposed. Additionally, to ensure a level playing field, the Council should add some quantitative targets for all Member States to respect. The general watering down of the CAP conditionality that the Council is proposing in their latest drafting suggestions is unacceptable, as is the addition of productive options (i.e., catch crops and nitrogen fixing crops) to the "green infrastructure" requirement (GAEC9), which could lead to repeating the failure of greening.
The climate and environmental expenditure ring-fenced under the CAP must not only increase in quantity, but also in quality. Therefore, this expenditure must only be composed of measures that truly deliver on climate and environmental challenges, and any untargeted interventions such as areas of natural constraints payments or the basic income support for farmers should not be included in them.
A CAP that is aligned with the European Green Deal should enhance its support to organic farming and Member States plan their interventions to ensure a reduction of GHG emissions from the agricultural sector in the coming years. However, the Agriculture Council has not yet agreed any amendments in this regard and, instead, they are weakening the tools that the European Commission could use to secure a higher environmental ambition by all Member States.
Opening the possibility that CAP eco-schemes are paid for "all eligible hectares" in a farm or "per livestock unit", as the Council proposes, could transform them into a low-ambition flat-rate payment for all farmers, or a way to support factory farming. Their original spirit and intention should not change: they should reward those farmers who are already delivering more public goods, with higher rewards for more ambitious commitments to sustainability.
A performance-based farming policy must be based on solid objectives, indicators and targets agreed at the EU level, and an enhanced monitoring and evaluation system to correct the deficiencies detected. Instead, the Council is not willing to include any targets for impact indicators, or even to collect the information needed to establish them, and rejects any further development of their CAP management databases (IACS and LPIS) which could impede better monitoring of impacts on the ground.
Communications Officer, Biodiversity and Agriculture
Ahead of the discussions, NGOs have written to the EU institutions asking them to align EU funding with a climate neutral Europe.
They specifically call for the Council, Parliament and Commission to:
- Support the full exclusion of fossil fuel investments from EU financing
- Bring together all the relevant partners in all programming, implementation and monitoring of EU Cohesion policy (which goes to less well-off EU regions)
- Ensure that all EU funding programmes and projects are embedded in strategies that support climate objectives
"A climate neutral Europe needs everyone to play their part. The proposed just transition mechanism is an important step towards making that happen. But a 'just transition' is not 'just' if regions are locked into unviable fossil fuels. It is not a 'transition' if there is no deadline for getting climate neutral. MEPs and EU Member States must improve the proposal so that regions show how and by when they will get free from gas, oil and coal." - Katie Treadwell, Energy Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office
Phasing out fossil fuel-based electricity generation, especially coal, is a prerequisite for fulfilling the European Union's commitment to the Paris Agreement and the leadership role the EU strives to have in global climate policy. Such a major change must be accompanied by a comprehensive Just Transition Strategy to minimise hardships for workers and their communities in the associated industries through active political and financial support, as well as shifting local economies towards sustainable economic activities.
Just Transition in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) will contribute to achieving EU climate neutrality by 2050 and the local development of target regions by having a positive impact in all the important aspects of the transition process – social, economic and environmental. For example, the total coal reserves in Southwest Bulgaria are estimated to be relatively small - less than 15% of the country's overall reserves; 5% of which is extracted. The two operational thermal power plants (TPPs) in the region, TPP Bobov Dol (Bobov Dol municipality) and TPP Republika (Pernik municipality) burn about 2.5% of the coal, and generate approximately 5% of Bulgaria's annual electricity production. Closing down these two coal-fired power plants will leave an annual 903,781 MWh energy gap that will need to be filled by alternative sustainable sources.
A WWF study of the southwest coal region in Bulgaria provided 3 scenarios for possible development of the region. The analysis is an attempt to plan the future of coal regions in Bulgaria and to serve as a tool for policy planning and long-term strategic decision-making first in the districts of Pernik, Kyustendil, Blagoevgrad and Sofia (without the city of Sofia); mainly in the municipalities of Bobov Dol and Pernik, as well as the already two other non-operational mines in the region.
There are over 150 protected areas of all types in Southwest Bulgaria, including two of the country's three national parks: Rila National Park (the largest in Bulgaria) and Pirin National Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). These conditions favour economic alternatives such as the development of various forms of tourism, organic farming, organic stock-breeding, sustainable forestry and fishing. Moving in this direction would also comply with the desire that economic activities should be compatible with the conservation of valuable species, habitats and nature in general. This fact should be a prerequisite for a sustainable future and be considered when deciding on alternative, Just Transition Mechanism-funded economic investments in the region.
WWF is calling for:
1. Territorial just transition plans to be underpinned by higher ambition and timelines for fossil fuel phase out;
2. Transparency and the engagement of all stakeholders to be at the heart of the just transition mechanism;
3. The just transition mechanism to exclude all fossil fuel investments from each of its three pillars (see below for more explanation of the pillars); and
4. Since the just transition mechanism alone will not be enough to deliver a just transition, Member States must complement it with national policy and financial support.
The European Commission also just published a plan for unlocking €1 trillion of sustainable investments over ten years. However, in WWF's view, the plan contains no new money and is little more than pretty packaging of an empty box.
WWF welcomes the proposal as a vital step forward in EU just transition policy. However, the mechanism can still be improved and Member States must complement it with their own resources. The co-legislators must now ensure there is sufficient ambition and that the mechanism is watertight to any fossil fuel investment.
Structure of the mechanism
The mechanism consists of three pillars: a just transition fund for grants to regions in transition, an InvestEU Guarantee to leverage private investment (because it lowers investment risk), and an EIB Public Sector Loan Facility to leverage public sector investment for the just transition.
Funding will be dependent on "territorial just transition plans" to be developed at the smallest EU regional level (NUTS 3 level) – one which is much more targeted than used in other cohesion policy funds and which reflects the necessity of bespoke solutions in specific regions.
The mechanism will also include the creation of a "Just Transition Platform." The new Platform will be able to provide technical assistance to the regions developing territorial just transition plans, in addition to facilitating the exchange of experience and the sharing of information. This process will build on the lessons from the coal platform and in this context, WWF urges the Commission and Member States to ensure transparency and the involvement of all stakeholders throughout the transition process.
WWF's recommendations and analysis in more detail:
- Territorial Just Transition Plans must be underpinned by higher ambition and timelines for fossil fuel phase out. Territorial Just Transition Plans at NUTS 3 level are a real step forward in EU just transition policy. They reinforce the opportunity for just transition support to be delivered in a strategic way and allow regions to develop bespoke responses to deliver a just transition. WWF welcomes the conditionality of EU just transition support on the approval of the plans. However, alignment with the National Energy and Climate Plans and current 2030 EU targets alone is not enough. To deliver the step change needed, regions must be able to go further. Therefore the plans must also contain timelines for fossil fuel phase-out, including a 2030 phase out date or earlier for coal.
- Transparency and the engagement of all stakeholders should be at the heart of the just transition mechanism. Territorial transition plans present an opportunity to ensure the meaningful engagement of all partners in the transition process. Planning and implementation must involve all stakeholders, including local community representatives and civil society. Recognition of the risks of conflicts of interest is vital, as is guidance on the roles and decision-making power of each partner. Support for this process must go further than that provided under current Cohesion Policy provisions. The new Just Transition Platform must also give transparency the utmost importance. Building on the lessons from the coal platform and the country team meetings, WWF urges the Commission and the Member States to ensure transparency and the involvement of all stakeholders throughout the transition process. WWF recommends the Seven Golden Rules for Just Transition Planning as a basis for designing formal structures. The Member States will propose regions to receive the fund following dialogue with the Commission. The fund should prioritise coal regions, but be open to support other regions which face challenges in the transition. The process of approval and of region selection should also be open and transparent.
- The Just Transition Mechanism must exclude all fossil fuel investments. A just transition will not be achieved if regions are left lagging behind with fossil technology. WWF welcomes the explicit exclusion of fossil fuel investments from the proposed just transition fund. However, we note that investments in all fossil fuels should be excluded from all three pillars of the just transition mechanism. It is very concerning that the InvestEU element of the new proposal includes the explicit possibility to finance gas projects. WWF strongly welcomes the recognition of the European Council's commitment to climate neutrality by 2050, but notes that fossil fuel investment, including in natural gas infrastructure, is incompatible with this goal. Sustainable economic diversification should be at the heart of all territorial just transition plans
- The Mechanism alone will not be enough to deliver a just transition. Only € 7.5 billion of the mechanism is new money: most of the €100 billion will come from the aspiration to mobilise national public and private investment in line with the just transition. Member States must complement EU support for a just transition with national funds and should create enabling policy environments for investors to support the transition. WWF's recent analysis of Emissions Trading System revenue spending illustrates how Member States could make better use of this resource to achieve EU climate and energy goals. WWF welcomes that the just transition mechanism will be additional to the existing 25% climate mainstreaming proposed in the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework Proposal, but notes this should be higher.
The goal of WWF's Just Transition Project is to develop tailor-made transition strategies for economic transformation of specific regions in Bulgaria (Southwest Bulgaria), Greece (Western Macedonia), and Poland (Silesia), supported by best practice examples from Germany, away from coal and towards sustainable economic activities. A key message is to make the stakeholders from Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, as well as Germany and Brussels recognise "just transition" as a fully legitimate part of climate change policies.
Chief Climate and Energy Expert, WWF-Bulgaria
Tel: +359 889 517 976
www.wwf.bg / www.climatebg.org
Energy Policy Officer
WWF European Policy Office
+32 470 73 57 48
WWF European Policy Office
+32 473 573 137