The end of coal mining in Spain: the 8 key points according to an IIDMA analysis

The International Institute of Law and the Environment (IIDMA) has published an analysis on the current state of coal mining in Spain, shortly before the final date set by the EU for the end of aid to coal mines under the Mine Closure Plan: 31 December 2018. This end is not overnight: the analysis shows that this process has been underway since the 1990s and the Closure Plan was officially adopted in 2013. The analysis sets out the current data of the mining sector, updated to October 2018 with the information available in the Framework Agreement for a Just Transition from Coal Mining, 24 October, draw up in a Royal Decree-Law approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday 21 December. This Royal Decree foresees, among other measures, the creation of a job bank that will facilitate participation in training and orientation courses for mining basin workers, and plans to facilitate their access to employment related mainly to energy transition.

Moreover, the analysis also indicates the solutions and the key elements for a successful transition: planning and cooperation between political, economic and civil society actors, and forecasting the economic restructuring of the regions.

As shown by our analysis, the coal sector is in clear decline and has a residual role within the Spanish economy. Its ending is unavoidable, not only in Spain but throughout Europe, as Decision 2010/787/EU provides for the closure of the non-competitive European mines included in that Decision. Now, the priorities are to ensure an orderly and progressive just transition for all workers and communities affected, supported by an appropriate legal framework, a fundamental element for the measures to be implemented. The first step has been the Agreement between Trade Unions and Government signed last October 24, which represents an achievement to iniciate the process” says Ana Barreira, director of IIDMA.

“In our analysis we have indicated some of the cases in mining regions of other countries, which have managed to make a successful transition thanks to the implementation of alternative economic activities that cannot be relocated. Planning and cooperation between actors, as well as the participation of civil society and the promotion of specific professional training are other key elements for a successful transition” adds Massimiliano Patierno, environmental engineer at IIDMA.

The 8 key aspects of the end of coal

1) Closure of 130 mines in less than three decades: the sector has gone from 146 coal mines at the beginning of the 1990s to the 12 that remained open at the end of 2017, located in Asturias (8), Castilla y León (2) and Aragón (2).

2) More than 25,000 jobs disappeared since 1994: of the 30,000 active miners in 1994, only 2,000 remained in October 2018. Among these, almost 80% worked in Asturias while the rest was divided between Castilla y León (320 miners) and Aragón (89 miners).

3) Sharped fall in production value: it has gone from extracting more than 30 million tons of coal in 1993 to less than 3 million in 2017, according to data from the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME). Its value? In just one year (2015-2016 period), it fell from 151 million euros to 83, representing 2.9% of the mining sector as a whole and 0.007% of national GDP.

4) Closure plan: the sector, in clear decline, has survived in recent years thanks to aid from the Closure Plan, granted in accordance with Decision 2010/787/EU. This provided that non-competitive mines would receive subsidies to cover production losses as well as exceptional costs subject to the requirement of closing by December 2018 at the latest. Otherwise, they would have had to pay back the aid received. Almost all Spanish mines were included in this Plan, with 26 production units belonging to 15 mining companies. However, many other EU countries also decided to draw up these closure plans, including Germany, Poland and Romania, which shows that the situation in Spain is not exceptional.

5) The countries with the most mines in Europe: according to 2015 data from the European Commission, the country with the greatest number of mines was Poland, host of COP24 2018, which had 35 and, behind it, Germany and Bulgaria, which had 12 mines each. Among the Member States analysed by the EC, there were 102 mines included under the European Decision and 180,000 workers, half of them in Poland.

6) The obstacles to the transition: the unavoidable closure of the coal mines and the Agreement between the Government and Trade Unions signed last October 24 sealed the beginning of the end of the Spanish mining sector. The transition of the mining regions will have to face different obstacles: industrial monoculture, lack of viable alternative sectors, depopulation and aging, mining culture of the population and low professional level.

7) Key elements to ensure a successful transition: IIDMA’s analysis identifies the fundamental pillars on which a successful just transition must be based. The main one is to make the population and politicians at the local level aware of the unavoidable end of coal. In addition, planning and cooperation between companies, investors and governments, with the participation of civil society, is indispensable. There is also a need for an adequate legal framework and the creation of job training centres focused on new economic activities to facilitate the regional economic restructuring.

8) Economic restructuring of the mining regions: different experiences at European level (see infographics) show us successful cases to take an example for the Spanish transition. Most of the succesful experiences have been based on promoting non-relocatable activities, most of them related to the following areas: green sectors and circular economy, leisure and culture (channelling tourism through the creation of recreational areas and/or reconversion of mining heritage…) and R&D&I. These actions, in addition to reactivating the area’s economy, would serve to attract highly qualified young people to these areas, which would also help to tackle depopulation.

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