The draft versions of the Territorial Just Transition Plans (TJTPs) do not offer a clear long-term vision and specific objectives for economic transformation of the coal regions of Bulgaria in relation to their needs, regional characteristics and potential for development. Bulgaria is currently the only country in the EU without approved funding from the EU Just Transition Mechanism. By refusing to commit to the decarbonisation of the coal regions, Bulgaria is missing the opportunity to get on the last train for long-term economic transformation.
During three consultative roundtables on 14 and 20 February 2023, the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) engaged over 120 representatives of various stakeholders such as mayors, municipal council members, local business associations, NGOs, academics and citizens from Pernik, Kyustendil and Stara Zagora.
The participants discussed concrete ideas, solutions and project proposals to be included in more ambitious versions of the Plans, with clear objectives to reduce the negative impacts of the coal phase-out on the economic development of vulnerable regions. CSD presented an analysis of the current versions of the TJTPs, based on a detailed examination of the proposed measures and on constructive feedback on the depth and the quality of stakeholder engagement during the Plans’ development and implementation phase.
Participants united around their criticism of the government's lack of policy action, which has contributed to the loss of the first tranche of funds from the Just Transition Mechanism, accounting of almost EUR 100 million at the end of 2022. There is also a strong possibility that Bulgaria will additionally lose more than EUR 500 million if, by mid-year, the government does not submit Plans that comply with the European regulatory framework and policy objectives to clearly integrate large-scale measures for the reduction of the carbon footprint, as well as to actively involve stakeholders in the formation and implementation of the identified targets.
The regions face considerable challenges such as their dependence on fossil fuels, the limited administrative capacity and the lack of coordinated economic instruments to accelerate the transformation of key sectors. So far, the uptake of low-carbon technological solutions and the diversification of regional economies is too slow and lacks a clear development strategy. The Bulgarian government should promptly outline intermediate, annual targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, lowering energy consumption, increasing the share of renewables in energy consumption and improving air quality.