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Romanian Power Move: Retraining for a Just Transition from coal

By L. Michael Buchsbaum - Energy Transition, January 27, 2022

Following advice from the World Bank, most of Romania’s coal mines started shuttering in 1997. But this pivotal sector’s collapse left hundreds of thousands unemployed with few resources to help them transition to new careers. Only now, as the nation’s last underground mines prepare to close and Bucharest plots their lignite phase-out, are so-called “Just Transition” retraining programs and other projects finally being implemented. Next in the on-going Romanian Power Move series, lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum, reviews the nation’s rocky steps towards a “just” coal transition.

Romania’s black heart: Jiu Valley

After more than a century of mining, by the late 1970s some 180,000 miners were still busy wringing coal out of 14 mining complexes throughout Romania’s Jiu Valley. That changed dramatically beginning in 1997 when – following the restructuring programs imposed by the World Bank – many of the nation’s mines started closing. In a short time, some 90% of the region’s jobs were gone.

Though older and mid-career miners could retire early, as the sprawling mining operations closed, many young people fled. Since the region’s mono-industrial towns were built to house the coal miners who fueled the local economy: good work for most meant getting out. Some 40% of Jiu’s population did just that in the decade before Romania joined the EU in 2007.

“This lack of alternatives was the main issue that brought about negative consequences in the community,” related Roxana Bucata, a journalist and first year PhD candidate at the Central European University in Vienna focusing on energy transitions.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, as a Master’s student studying Just Transitions, Bucata traveled to the region to research how coal’s continuing demise was impacting the Jiu’s population.

Her interviews with local residents found “a general lack of trust towards any kind of authority or regional national union trade management. There’s been a lot of damage here,” she continued.

Now at the end of 2021, less than 4,000 miners are still pulling coal out of the valley’s four struggling deep mines. And with at least two more closures looming in 2022, most remaining workers are just hoping to stay on long enough to qualify for pensions or early buy-outs.

“We need something to replace mining jobs with,” Lucian Enculescu, the leader of the Livezeni ‘Libertatea 2008’ union said to the Guardian recently. “Anything.”

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