What Does Decarbonisation Mean for European Energy Regions?
Does ambitious climate protection policy lead to high unemployment and social erosion in European energy regions? Does the coal phase-out give a boost to populist movements there and stir up anti-democratic resentment? Are these regions developing appropriate strategies for dealing with the upcoming transformation of their carbon-intensive economies?
The Wuppertal Institute and 13 project partners will address these and other overarching questions within the new research project CINTRAN. The researchers want to gain a better understanding of the patterns and dynamics of transformation processes associated with the decarbonisation of Europe as a basis for tangible recommendations for action.
By 2050, Europe should become the first climate-neutral continent. In order to keep this promise, the Member States of the European Union (EU) must rapidly end their fossil fuel energy production and restructure their carbon-intensive economies. The extraction of fossil fuels and their use for electricity production and in energy-intensive industries in Europe is geographically unevenly distributed and concentrated in relatively few regions. The economic performance of many these regions is still almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels. The European decarbonisation target requires a fundamental system change.
Up to now, research has concentrated strongly on the direct economic consequences or the energy system and energy infrastructures. In the foreseeable or already ongoing transition processes, however, further unintended or even unforeseen side effects are to be expected. Some studies are already looking at the hidden layers of these transitions in terms of political, social, demographic and cultural aspects, but there is still a lack of a holistic understanding: What interactions does the decarbonisation of carbon-intensive economic regions have, for example, with populism, migration and gender relations? The researchers of the Wuppertal Institute want to close this research gap together with 13 partners within the project “Carbon Intensive Regions in Transition – Unravelling the Challenges of Structural Change” – CINTRAN for short. Therefore, they pursue an integrated as well as inter- and transdisciplinary research approach.
“We want to understand what causes the success or failure of regions facing structural change through effective climate protection policies,” says Lukas Hermwille, Project Co-ordinator in the International Climate Policy Research Unit in the Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Division at the Wuppertal Institute and principal investigator of the CINTRAN project.
Prof. Dr. Manfred Fischedick, Scientific Managing Director of the Wuppertal Institute, emphasises the strategic importance of the project: “We are seeing a strong resistance to ambitious climate and energy policies in many of these carbon-intensive regions. This resistance is often based in fears of being left behind as a region. The CINTRAN project will help us to better understand how these regions are affected and how economic and social hardships can be minimised. It will contribute to better management of structural change and help the regions to leave their fossil-fuel dependent legacy behind.”
Digital kick-off meeting
On 12 and 13 May 2020, 30 scientists from 8 countriesmet virtually for the kick-off of this ambitious research project, which is funded by the European Union’s “Horizon 2020” research framework programme. Over the next four years, the researchers will use a transdisciplinary approach to combine different scientific disciplines in order to gain a better understanding of the patterns and dynamics of transformation processes resulting from ambitious climate policies. They will also examine the effectiveness of coping strategies dealing with structural change and develop instruments that enable regions to assess themselves and observe their development. The project focuses on four case studies in affected regions: the Rhenish lignite mining area in Germany, Silesia in Poland, Western Macedonia in Greece and Ida-Viru in Estonia. With a Regions in Transition Academy including a webinar series, CINTRAN will also provide policy advice and foster the exchange of knowledge between other European regions.