Solve Climate Change by 2030: Empirical Experiences from Central and Eastern Europe

On April 7th, CEU participated in a Global Dialog, hosting an online public webinar entitled "Just transition in Central and Eastern Europe - Experiences from Austria, Czech Republic, North Macedonia and Romania." Similar events occurred at over 100 universities in 40 economies, including almost all 50 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. From Australia to Kyrgyzstan, Colombia to Malaysia, and South Carolina to South Africa, climate experts discussed the big, ambitious things that we can do in our own communities over the next year to help solve climate change and create jobs as we recover from Covid.

In light of the climate emergency, decarbonisation has predominantly been associated with positive outcomes, the most obvious of which is the reduction of CO2 emissions. Yet, when poorly administered, low carbon transitions can result in exacerbated regional inequalities and significant job losses, justifying the need to evaluate ethical and equity dimensions of low-carbon transitions.

The CEU event's panel focusing on energy justice and coal phase-out in Austria, Czech Republic, North Macedonia and Romania featured Ana Stojilovska, PhD Researcher at Central European University (CEU), Budapest; Colin Kimbrell, PhD Researcher at Masaryk University, Czech Republic; Roxana Bucata, Freelance journalist and communicator, Romania. The moderator of the event was Michael LaBelle, Associate Professor, CEU Departments of Economics and Business; and Environmental Sciences and Policy.

The key take-away of the CEU Solve Climate Change by 2030 is that energy transition needs to be, above all, inclusive, necessitating institutional leadership and deep structural reform. It was generally agreed upon that the governments' role in just energy transition has been negligible, with the main force being local communities and NGO's demanding justice for coal miners. One of the main obstacles to just energy transition the speakers identified is a lack of cooperation between grassroots movements and the government, as well as between European countries.

In case of the Czech Republic, the government's disinterest in energy transition lies in its priorities; the Czech government attributes higher value to energy security than sustainability. While almost all coal mines have been shut down in Jui Valley, Romania, the government has been struggling to help the coal miners left behind, with many re-training and tax reductions programs having been a complete failure. Nonetheless, the local inhabitants and NGOs still see a potential in the re-conversion programs, seeing the future of the region as a cultural hotspot, preserving the coal-mining heritage of the region. The EU's Just Transition Fund, which the Jiu Valley will be a beneficiary of, provides hope that the local vision for the region might fully materialise. These examples, thus, show that the drive for just energy transition comes from local communities where each individual has a role to play holding passive governments accountable.

More importantly, it was shown that coal-miners left behind are far from the only issue with regards to just energy transition. The cases of energy poverty, which were talked about in cases of North Macedonia and Austria, demonstrate that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds cannot participate in just energy transition, with the low-carbon transition perpetuating poverty and inequality. The main message, thus, is that energy transition cannot be looked at from a technical or innovation point of view as is a very common notion and practice. It means much more than simply replacing one energy technology with another, or reducing CO2 emissions to mitigate global warming; it means addressing the inequalities which fossil fuel-based economies created and reinforce, coming up with a better, more equitable social, economic and political system.

Despite the challenges lying ahead, all speakers express hope for the future in terms of just energy transition, seeing small yet impactful changes already taking place on local levels. For example, generational change within ministries and energy companies in Czech Republic and the rising presence of anti-status-co actors such as environmental NGOs could trigger a change in priorities. Moreover, this event as such shows that there is also a growing interest in academia regarding just transitions.

One-page Teacher Guides available to lead a one-class period discussion about climate change from the perspective of your subject area. Teachers can also #MakeClimateAClass by assigning the content as homework. The Guides, for over two dozen different disciplines, have been developed by a global climate education project based at Bard College in New York.