Moving Past “Brown Coal” in Europe’s Rural Areas

As part of the European Green Deal Investment Plan and the Just Transition Mechanism, the “Reboost – a Boost for Rural Lignite Regions” initiative, which includes Lusatia in Germany, the Eastern Wielkopolska region in Poland, and Gorj in Romania, aims to engage and empower local actors to develop resilient and robust sustainable development strategies.

In Europe, the brown coal market is still considerable. Lignite mining is substantially greater in scale than hard coal mining because much more coal is required to create the same quantity of energy. In 2020, 244 million tonnes of it were mined in Europe, the majority of it in Germany, the leading producer.

In 2020, the Reboost project brought together lignite-dependent region partners such as the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Centre for Systems Solutions, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, Timis Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (CCIAT), E3G Germany, Bankwatch Romania, and Instytut Zielonej Przyszoci, among others. Economic downturn, aging populations, a lack of employment prospects, and a lack of coordination among stakeholders are all obstacles to change in Lusatia, Germany, Eastern Wielkopolska, Poland, and Gorj, Romania.

The project is organized around three topics that address distinct parts of regional transformations: building a shared understanding of area ecosystems, identifying and overcoming impediments to shifting away from brown coal, and developing new economic prospects with the regions.

Using a range of methodologies, the effort investigates the political, socioeconomic, and topographical features of the regions.

The strategic simulation technique is one of the most significant for involving local stakeholders in the creation and exploration of various development trajectories. The project also encourages reskilling and the construction of stakeholder coalitions for regional transformation, as well as investigating the feasibility of implementing any attractive future development choices uncovered.

The initiative recently hosted a series of strategic simulation workshops with local stakeholders to engage them in a regional conversation about the current situation. The workshops were designed to explore and discuss the future shape of the areas as well as transformation paths. Participants were given the opportunity to develop and test novel energy transition techniques, to learn about and experience the complexity of a systemic approach, to learn how to nurture and integrate both technological and social energy innovations, and to share their experiences.

To examine the alternatives to lignite-fired power generation, as well as the influence on the local economy and labor market, and to fully explore the goals of different stakeholder groups, complementary approaches such as deep listening methods and economic evaluation techniques are utilized.

The Reboost initiative also looks into ways to get more people involved in EU policymaking and financing possibilities.

In addition, the Centre for Systems Solutions (CRS) is working on an online social simulation game with project partners that will be applicable to any region grappling with the energy transition. The game’s goal is to facilitate local actors’ communication. Players will interact with an interactive environment that closely resembles the primary socioeconomic and geographic elements of real-world places. The simulation results will be shared across the three regions to encourage mutual learning and innovation dissemination. CRS will create a multiplayer online game for dissemination at the end of the project.

To broaden the project’s reach, the partners have planned a series of events this summer, including Open-Air Climate Talks and presentations at the Deutsche Bahn Culture Train on the 21st and 22nd of August, respectively. Presentations on the project goals and participatory exercises with passengers on the future development of Lusatia are scheduled on the trip from Berlin to Wroclaw and back.

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