Bulgaria’s coal regions are facing considerable challenges in decarbonising their economy and enabling a just and green transition in line with its commitments under the European Green Deal. The regions’ economies are fossil-fuel dependent and the bulk of the local industries are energy intensive and slow to take up low-carbon technological solutions or to diversify away from their dependence on fossil fuels.
On 14 November 2022, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) engaged a plethora of national and local policy-makers, independent experts and business representatives in a discussion on the assessment and improvement of the draft Territorial Just Transition Plans (TJTPs) at a policy roundtable, titled “Towards a Just Transition in Bulgaria: Unlocking the Green Transformation Potential of Stara Zagora, Pernik and Kyustendil. During the event, CSD presented a comprehensive assessment of the draft Plans, based on a comparative methodology for evaluating the just transition process in Central and East European countries.
In addition to CSD experts, the discussion was joined by Angelina Boneva, Director of the General Strategic Planning and Programs for Regional Development Directorate, Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, Martin Dimitrov, Chairperson of the Committee on Economic Policy and Innovation in Bulgarian Parliament and Radoslav Ribarski, Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Energy in Bulgarian Parliament. The perspectives of the three coal regions were also shared, represented by Georgi Simeonov, Director of the Investments and European Projects Directorate, Municipality of Stara Zagora, Stefan Krastev, Deputy Mayor of Pernikand Petar Paunov, Mayor of Kyustendil.
During the discussion, the speakers agreed on the need for the introduction of specific targets and mechanisms to implement economic diversification initiatives and the development of transformative sectors, as well as the need to empower local communities as the key drivers of the just transition. There is a need for greater trust between institutions, national and local stakeholders, as well as ensuring socio-economic justice for all involved in the process. The TJTPs should outline specific support mechanisms for small-scale renewable energy projects, rather than favouring large infrastructural projects without clear milestones, project objectives and timeframes.
The Bulgarian government should also outline a concrete timeline for an accelerated coal-phase out and industrial decarbonisation. The Bulgarian government should also increase regional capacity and put more efforts into alleviating some deeply-rooted structural economic deficits on the labour market in order to prepare the Bulgarian workforce for a greener future.