Opinion

EU should pay member states to get rid of coal

The European Union should act to ensure the continued transformation of its energy system, and encourage member states to overcome their dependence on coal for supplying electricity. Helping coal-mining regions with the transition should require €150 million per year – a mere 0.1% of the total EU budget – and the EU would not even need to establish a new fund to support it.

By: Date: December 5, 2017 Topic: Energy & Climate

This opinion piece is based on the policy brief “Beyond coal: facilitating the transition in Europe” and was also published in:

Global warming can seem an overwhelming challenge. To have any hope of limiting catastrophic temperature increases, humans must take drastic and coordinated action around the world. Progress is slow, but there are some green spots of good news. Here in Europe, the energy sector is being transformed by advances in renewable energy and firm policies on carbon emissions. Since 2000, the EU energy system has modernised at a rate that few expected.

But Europe still has a dirty secret. Many EU countries have still not switched off the most polluting part of the energy mix: coal.

Coal continues to play a major role in the electricity generation for several EU countries: 80% in Poland, and over 40% in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, and Germany. Even the gas-exporting Netherlands produces 35% of its electricity from coal. So far only a few EU countries have pledged to shut down their coal-fired power plants altogether: the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

This needs to change, because coal’s lingering place in the EU energy system is disastrous for the climate, for the environment, and for human health.

From a climate perspective, coal is the worst way to generate electricity – even compared to other fossil fuels.

From a climate perspective, coal is the worst way to generate electricity – even compared to other fossil fuels. A coal-fired power plant emits 40% more carbon dioxide than a gas-fired plant producing the same amount of electricity, and 20% more than an oil-fired plant. To look at it another way, coal is responsible for 75% of carbon emissions in the European electricity sector, but only produces 25% of our electricity. Electricity generation produces a quarter of Europe’s total carbon emissions, and is vital in plans to green other sectors. Decarbonising electricity is vital. After all, a shift to electric cars will mean little if we power them with electricity from coal.

Coal is also bad for the environment and human health. Coal-fired power plants across Europe are responsible for the largest amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter released into the air.  These pollutants can enter the human body and cause various health problems, from lung cancer to heart attacks. Air pollution causes 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year.

And yet, several countries in Europe continue to support coal-fired electricity production. They justify this stance with arguments about energy security and worries about job losses in the coal mining industry. At first glance these concerns are understandable, but with a little EU support, neither should delay the phase out of coal power.

Energy security is a valid concern. A country highly reliant on coal cannot switch overnight to cleaner sources of electricity. However, the transition is feasible. Several countries have already successfully phased out coal without compromising energy security and competitiveness. It is a question of good planning, and that needs to start now.

Coal mining employment in Europe is no longer a major issue. The country with the highest number of coal mining jobs is Poland, with 100,000 people employed.

The socio-economic argument about job losses is also unconvincing. Coal mining employment in Europe is no longer a major issue. The country with the highest number of coal mining jobs is Poland, with 100,000 people employed. This represents a mere 0.7% of Poland’s total employment. In all other countries coal mining employment stands below 30,000 units, always representing less than 0.6% of total employment.

Of course the closure of mines will be painful for those few workers and communities who still depend on them. The EU should step in and offer its support. Concretely, the EU should put in place a scheme to help coal miners who will lose their jobs. This would reduce the political damage and incentivise coal-reliant countries to start or accelerate their phase-out plans.

The EU does not even need to establish a new fund to support the transition of coal mining regions to other industries. It just needs to make a better use of the already existing European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), which supports workers in displaced industries with their job hunt, offering retraining or underwriting attempts at entrepreneurship. The scope of the EGF could be broadened to cover coal mining regions immediately with a minor amendment to the current 2014-2020 budget.

Looking to the future, the globalisation fund’s focus on coal mining regions could be further strengthened, transforming it into a ‘European Globalisation and Climate Adjustment Fund’. €150 million per year should be devoted to support coal mining regions: a mere 0.1% of the total EU budget.

 €150 million per year should be devoted to support coal mining regions: a mere 0.1% of the total EU budget.

Climate change is a complex global problem that needs international solutions. But it is clear that coal needs to go. By compensating regions that still depend on coal mining, the EU can show solidarity with those who have something to lose from the phase out. It can also speed up the transition, generating substantial benefits for all Europeans in terms of climate, environment and health. Meaningful support for countries and workers facing global challenges; targeted support for changes that benefit all Europeans – is this not exactly what we expect the EU to do?


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to communication@bruegel.org.

View comments
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Europe – the global centre for excellent research

This report, requested by the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, analyses the EU’s potential to be a global centre of excellence for research as a driver of its future growth in a complex global S&T landscape, and how EU public resources can contribute to this.

By: Michael Baltensperger and Reinhilde Veugelers Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: May 22, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The latest European growth-rate estimates

The quarterly growth rate of the euro area in Q1 2019 was 0.4% (1.5% annualized), considerably higher than the low growth rates of the previous two quarters. This blog reviews the reaction to the release of these numbers and the discussion they have triggered about the euro area’s economic challenges.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 20, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jun
7
11:00

Brussels Policy Dialogue: Insights for EU and Member States’ Climate Agenda

The event is a policy dialogue organised under the project, 'COP21: Results and Implications for Pathways and Policies for Low Emissions European Societies'.

Speakers: Artur Runge-Metzger, Oliver Sartor, Marta Torres-Gunfaus and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

How do national energy policies fit into EU decarbonisation plans?

Through considering several different national perspectives, we discuss how to reconcile the EU Climate Strategy targets with national energy and climate policies.

Speakers: Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk, Christian von Hirschhausen, Carole Mathieu and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: May 15, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Germany’s even larger than expected fiscal surpluses: Is there a link with the constitutional debt brake?

Germany is having a political debate on the adjustment of its budgetary plans due to revised forecasts, and an academic debate on the debt brake. Yet, since 2011, general government revenues and surpluses have been systematically and significantly higher than forecast. The German surplus reached 1.7% of GDP in 2018. This bias did not exist from 1999-2008 before the introduction of the debt brake. While the IMF also got its forecasts of German surpluses wrong, the extent of the bias is larger for the German government’s forecasts. These data suggest that the political debate should focus on the debt brake and its implementation rather than on how to close the budgetary ‘hole’.

By: Catarina Midoes and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 13, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Deep Focus: Reforming and rejuvenating Russia’s economy

Bruegel fellow Marek Dabrowski talks to Sean Gibson about the underlying causes of Russia's slow emergence from economic crisis, in an episode of the Deep Focus podcast series.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 9, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Elections must put Europe on a path to a green future

We are at a pivotal moment for the future of Europe. It is an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental values and visions underlying the European project, and on the future direction of this common journey. Climate change should be at the centre of this reflection.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: May 8, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Working Paper

Estimating the cost of capital for wind energy investments in Turkey

Wind power represents a key component of Turkey’s national energy strategy. Based on data collected on 138 installations in the country, this paper provides an estimation of wind power’s cost of capital in Turkey. This analysis finds that the cost of capital for wind power in Turkey compares with the one of South-east European countries. On this basis, continued governmental commitment to current support schemes for wind power must be considered as crucial to further promote wind power deployment in the country, even if the recent devaluation of the Turkish lira raises the feed-in-tariffs cost for the government.

By: Gustav Fredriksson, Simone Tagliapietra and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: May 7, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Talking about Europe: Le Monde 1944-2018

An ongoing research project is seeking to quantify and analyse national printed media discourses about Europe over the decades since the end of the second world war. A first snapshot screened more than 2.8 million articles in Le Monde, out of which 750,000 speak about “Europe”.

By: Enrico Bergamini, Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol, Francesco Papadia and Giuseppe Porcaro Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 20, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

A new climate strategy for the EU

At a pivotal point in time, three major EU sides come together to discuss the future climate strategy.

Speakers: Silke Karcher, Andrei Marcu, Raffaele Mauro Petriccione, Kathleen Van Brempt and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 19, 2019
Read article More by this author

Opinion

New EU industrial policy can only succeed with focus on completion of single market and public procurement

France and Germany recently unveiled a manifesto for a European industrial policy fit for the 21st century, sparking a lively debate across the continent. The fundamental idea underpinning the manifesto is a good one: Europe does need an industrial policy to ensure that EU companies remain highly competitive globally, notwithstanding strong competition from China and other big players. However, the Franco-German priorities are unsuitable for the pursuit of this goal.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: March 18, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

An opportunity for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean

After a decade of false starts, producers should grab the chance to co-operate as exporters.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: March 12, 2019
Load more posts