EU Science Hub

EU coal, peat and oil shale regions: updated analysis of the challenges ahead

A total of 21 Member States are either already coal-free, or have committed to phasing-out coal, lignite and peat, by 2030
A total of 21 Member States are either already coal-free, or have committed to phasing-out coal, lignite and peat, by 2030
Mar 16 2021

A new JRC study maps the challenges of the energy transition for the EU coal, peat and oil shale regions.

Coal has historically been one of the main fuels of the European economy. However, there has been a gradual decrease in its use since the 1990s.

While coal remains important, a total of 21 Member States are either already coal-free, or have committed to phasing-out coal, lignite and peat, by 2030 in their national energy and climate plans.

According to the two scenarios considered, - the NECPs and the ENTSO-E Ten-Year Network Development Plans (TYNDP)-, the potential job losses in coal-fired power plants and mines in the next decade are likely to range from 54,000 to 112,000, out of a total of 208,000 current direct jobs.

At the same time, the wide-scale deployment of renewable energy and other low-carbon energy technologies can provide between 106,681 and 314,416 jobs in the affected regions, as outlined in the 2020 report on clean energy technologies in the coal regions.

Peat and oil shale are used to a lesser extent for energy than coal. Six EU Member States (Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden), have peat-related activities, and only one, Estonia, uses oil shale.

Together they employ more than 11 000 people directly. The most certain and imminent risk affects peat employment in Ireland, due to the clear decision to phase out peat in the country.

Coal

Coal activities offer direct employment to around 208,000 people across Europe. 76% of these jobs are in the mining sector.

The regions with the highest number of jobs in the coal sector (mines and power plants) are in Poland, Germany, Czechia, Romania and Bulgaria.

This is a decrease of almost 37% in the number of jobs indirectly related to the coal sector in the EU compared to the 2018 report on the same subject.

85% of the regions with operational coal mines by 2018-19 used coal in the carbon-intensive sector.

The biggest industrial coal user by far is the iron and steel industry, accounting for 85% of the total coal used in the industry.

Jobs related to the coal sector are to be found mostly inPoland (107,079), Germany (26,261), Czechia (17,829), Romania (16,630) and Bulgaria (12,944).

Depending on the scenario considered, the risk of job losses by 2030 is greatest in Poland (up to 58,185), Germany (13,800), Romania (up to 11,170), Bulgaria (up to 9,103) and Greece (up to 5217).

Peat

Peat is used in Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden, of which Finland and Ireland are the most prominent in terms of energy use.

The sector directly employs nearly 6300 people in the corresponding countries.

In Ireland a clear peat phase-out decision has been made. Finland has also adopted an explicit target to halve the consumption of peat for 2030. However, jobs will be preserved if the fuel is changed to, for example, biomass.

Oil shale

Oil shale is currently used only in Estonia. Estonia produced nearly 16 million tonnes of oil shale in 2018, and oil shale activities were associated with the direct employment of slightly fewer than 5200 people: nearly 0.4 % of the Estonian working population.

On top of this number, oil shale-related activities in Estonia account for nearly 3000 additional indirect jobs.

Background

The initiative for coal regions in transition, enlarged to oil shale and peat regions in 2020, is a key building block of the European Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism.

In September 2020, the European Commission presented its plan to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 % by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

This level of ambition for the next decade will put the EU on a balanced pathway to climate neutrality by 2050.

It will require a fundamental rebalancing of our energy system, moving toward accelerated phase-outs of polluting fossil fuels (for example, coal, oil shale, peat) and more sustainable economic frameworks, potentially posing significant challenges and opportunities for many regions.

The new JRC study builds upon the 2018 JRC report on EU coal regions in transition and expands it to include oil shale and fuel peat, focusing on their energy use.

Potential job losses in 2020-2030 in the coal sector (coal mines and power plants) based on the TYNDP
Potential job losses in 2020-2030 in the coal sector (coal mines and power plants) based on the TYNDP

a) Potential job losses in 2020-2030 in the coal sector (coal mines and power plants) based on the TYNDP1 coal phase-out scenario

Potential job losses in 2020-2030 in the coal sector (including coal mines and power plants) based on the NECP
Potential job losses in 2020-2030 in the coal sector (including coal mines and power plants) based on the NECP

b) Potential job losses in 2020-2030 in the coal sector (including coal mines and power plants) based on the NECP2 coal-phase out scenario