Just transition to lignite-free era for Western Macedonia


Western Macedonia's fair transition to the post-lignite era and the effects of this process on the local labor market and society are being analysed in this article. The article is based on the study "Just Transition and Employment in Greece" conducted by LDK Consultants, on behalf of WWF Greece and on the press release published by WWF Greece. A policy brief of the study is also available.

Mining view from the top with "Coal is a dead-end" message

The end of lignite era has come in Greece, creating new opportunities for the lignite areas and the country as a whole. On September 23, 2019, from the podium of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, the Greek Prime Minister announced, among other things, the closing of all existing lignite power plants by 2028 and the increase of energy production from Renewable Energy Sources (RES) up to 35% by 2030. More specifically, all existing lignite-fired power plants would be shut down by 2023 except one, the under construction plant Ptolemaida V, which is scheduled to continue generating power from lignite until 2028.

The government recently presented its Just Transition Development Plan (JTDP), describing the way of its implementation. WWF Greece, from the very beginning, welcomed this first brave step on the part of the Greek government, stressing that the upcoming strategic decisions would be absolutely essential in achieving the ultimate target: Electrical energy 100% produced by renewable energy sources with no net emissions of greenhouse gases, as soon as possible. WWF Greece considered it its duty to help, in the best possible way, the just transition of the communities that have been pillars of the country's electrification for decades. So, as minimum but critical contribution to the delignification, it funded a study on the impact of this process on the local labor market.

The transition to a carbon-free economy in Europe is no longer an impossible scenario. Following the political support on climate neutrality by 2050 along with the adoption and presentation of the Green Deal in December 2019 and the just transition mechanism, the zero-carbon by 2050 target has become a real and specific need, while the changes are already here.

Local communities affected by these changes, like the Western Macedonia region and Arcadia regional unit in Greece, must be supported and led to a growth pattern with new sustainable jobs and respect for the environment, becoming, in that way, an example for other areas. The chance of a new plan, which, with the appropriate funding from the European Union, can become an example of implementation, gives a unique opportunity for a sustainable, fair and equal development for these areas that for years paid the price for the country’s electricity supply. The delignification must and can be done without any exclusions while being respectful to the area and its people.

Evidently, a great part of Western Macedonia region’s growth pattern has been based on the activities of Public Power Corporation (PPC) in the area. The WWF study shows that the corporation is the biggest employer in the area with 3,614 employees (2020) while the percentage of direct positions created by PPC in the region is estimated at 6.3 %, without taking into account their multiplier effect. In addition to the jobs that PPC provides as employer, it creates a series of other direct positions through contracts signed with other companies in the region during its productive work. It is estimated that 1,833 jobs in this ecosystem will be lost in the near future.

Post lignite investments planning principles

Apparently, the local community is deeply concerned. The new model presented in the JTDP includes, among other things, a series of investments in renewable energy sources and industrial production along with a shift to tourism and primary sector.

These investments, however, leave a 2-3 years gap during the transition and do not offer the kind of sustainable jobs that the region needs based on the skills and other characteristics of its workforce

The data of the WWF Greece study show that the workforce and the level of its skills utilisation and upgrading is a major issue. It is linked to job openings and development, and to the transformation of the regional –and especially the local– growth pattern.

At the same time, the role of PPC in this process is of extremely high importance, as it owns vast terrains in lignite regions. With the proper cooperation (e.g. on rehabilitation activities, development of energy-related technology and RES projects through energy communities), the productive use of these areas can lead to a significant development at local and regional level.

Analysing the characteristics of the region's workforce, and recognizing the need to provide a realistic solution through sustainable development proposals for the local communities, the study emphasises in circular economy investments that have a large multiplier effect on local value chains and a high labor-related index in connection with the affected workforce of the area. It also suggests the enhancement of cooperative models for RES projects (e.g. through the energy communities) and the overall support of entrepreneurship and cooperation with an outward-looking character, while benefiting by its proximity to other countries.

Expected job creation Western Macedonia Masterplan

In addition, regarding the transition of the directly affected staff (e.g. the transition of a considerable proportion of drivers/machinery operators) is suggested to be related to:

  • Employment in decommissioning of lignite plants and land restoration.
  • Association with the construction sector (mainly with public works).
  • Support of the transition to industry and specific RES activities and their related projects.
  • Employment, partly, in infrastructure development and investment projects in the area.

In the context of the study proposal, it is also noted that the human capital should be supported through modern and targeted interventions that will be a distinct part of the development plan and, at the same time, they will be directly and clearly linked to its other initiatives. A relevant collaborative diagnostic mechanism and support tools should be developed as well as adequate resources should be ensured, an aspect that should be specifically reflected within the territorial just transition plans.

Finally, special reference is made to the need for agreement and cooperation of all stakeholders with distinct roles as well as the need for development and operation of a flexible and effective governance system (flows and responsibilities). Everyone's contribution should be systematic and supported by a roadmap of detailed actions. An important element in this regard is the proper identification, selection and inclusion of stakeholders in the plan’s design, implementation and follow-up process, but also the role they can play in the success of the project and the various support mechanisms. The active involvement of local communities is important and their part should be strengthened in the governance system.