Why this story matters:
Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe rely on coal to meet their energy needs. They may have signed on to the Paris Agreement (which means reducing polluting emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change), but governments, companies and miners still think they can go ahead with coal mining and burning.
That's the case in Poland, Romania, Czechia, Slovakia and elsewhere.
But in Czechia there is a twist: the previous, Social-Democratic, government prepared a strategy for the alternative economic development of mining regions. In many cases, one of the main arguments to keep coal is that otherwise the mono-industrial regions would die out. The point of the Czech strategy is to create alternatives to coal mining - while it's still taking place - so that reliance on it can be gradually reduced in line with the climate change imperative.
The Czechs now have a new government. But the strategy is already set in motion action at the local level, which may prove irreversible: local mayors are planning the post-coal life of their towns and citizens are taking more interest in getting to know alternatives.
Details from the story:
- The mayor of Horní Jiřetín, north-west Czechia, a town lying right on the edge of Czechia's biggest lignite mine, plans for the life after coal of his town: on the spot of the mine there'll be a lake, orchards will grown again and production of fruit derivatives expanded.
- This town put up a major fight in recent years to prevent the expansion of the mine, which would otherwise destroy the whole locality.
- Many places in north-west Czechia and other coal regions in the country are largely mono-industrial, and inhabitants leave as mines close because they see no alternatives.
- In the last years, the previous Czech government (Social-Democrats), prepared a strategy for the alternative development of the country's mining regions, which are also its poorest. The idea is to stimulate a diverse local economy so that if coal mining gets reduced, this does not mean the end of opportunity and employment in the regions.
- Some doubt the plan can work because of high corruption levels in Czechia and the change in government.
- But local actors are already implementing the plan. The company doing re-ecologisation of mining sites is already using money allocated under the strategy to implement more complex projects that could help with the economic development of regions. Local mayors are dreaming bigger.