We offer our assistance in a just transition of coal towns: an open letter from Donbas NGOs

19 July 2021

We, non-governmental organizations working in the Donetsk region, understand the global trends towards decarbonization and just transition of fossil fuel-dependent regions, of which Ukraine is also a part of. We welcome and support the activity of various public and private structures, local governments and international organizations that have begun to participate in the processes of just transition of our region. At the same time, we are concerned about several processes in this context.

With this letter, we want to focus the attention of national and international players on both the existing challenges and the opportunities for the just transition. We also offer concrete steps and fields of action which we as NGOs can help to implement. For us, this is part of a fruitful, constructive dialogue between the national government, local government and other important players with civil society.

A just transition is the transition to a new, sustainable and prosperous economy in the face of climate change and resource scarcity. At the heart of the transformation today is the restructuring of the energy sector and the inevitable phase-out of coal in the energy sector in the coming decades. Just transition is a transition that focuses on the needs of regions, people on the ground, and promotes greater social justice. People and communities are at its center. The importance of this approach is evidenced by current documents at the European and international levels – the European Green Deal, the Leipzig Charter, the Territorial Agenda 2030, different initiatives by the UN Habitat Initiative and the International Trade Union Confederation.

Transformation is an important process for Ukraine, in particular for our region. This is evidenced by a number of political steps of the Ukrainian authorities:

– ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2016;

– public statements of the Ukrainian government in 2020 on the support of the European Green Deal initiative;

– start of the cooperation with the European Commission, the governments of Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom for the just transition of coal regions.

We welcome and support the relevant concrete steps taken by the government, namely:

– the creation of a national Coordination Center for the Transformation of Coal Regions;

– the development of two concepts of national programs: transformation of coal regions of Ukraine by 2030 and reform of the coal industry.

These steps confirm the seriousness of the intentions of the Ukrainian authorities and emphasize special attention to the issue of socio-economic development of coal mining towns.

We also welcome the activity of Ukraine’s international partners in the direction of transformation, including the European Commission, the German government, the governments of Great Britain and Poland, international financial institutions (World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), Energy Community, etc.

We believe that the communities (hromadas) of Donetsk region have the potential to become full-fledged European cities. In principle, a European city is a place where different views and opportunities are concentrated, where space for cooperation and solidarity opens up. Our communities are the link between two levels of space according to the European Leipzig Charter: they link the potential for cooperation between neighbors in neighborhoods, and larger areas (regions). Communities in the Donetsk region can become more active players in the process and combine the three roles of a just, green and productive town.

Communities in our region have a number of advantages in this process of transformation, including:

  • many people with special education and extensive experience still live in the Donetsk region, especially those working at large, industrial enterprises;
  • communities through decentralization reform have the opportunity to grow, use new land, more actively implement local development policies;
  • local authorities already have experience of systematic cooperation on transformation together with NGOs and the Donetsk Chamber of Commerce and Industry as part of the Platform for Sustainable Development of Coal Towns of Donetsk Region.

However, we are concerned about the following processes:

1) Coal towns’ residents do not know and do not understand the principles of just transition; they are not able to actively participate in the transformation processes; at the same time, their confidence in the national policy for the transformation of coal regions is very low.

2) Specific national and international transformation and local development projects are only in some cases based on cooperation between several towns in coal regions – and usually do not involve local NGOs. Thus, such initiatives may not contribute to the development of the region, but on the contrary, reinforce the negative trends mentioned above.

3) The principles of inclusive, systematic planning are implemented in Ukrainian communities with great difficulty, because the self-governing bodies of our region lack specialists, knowledge and resources for their application.

In this context, it is also important to take into account several specific, key issues in our region that may increase the risks of the above-mentioned trends:

– the threat of losing a large number of jobs, current wage arrears;

– significantly limited opportunities to attract private investment due to proximity to military conflict;

– strong ecological issues due to the consequences of the mining industry (dust, heavy metals, water pollution, etc.);

Today, there are a number of projects, programs and activities for energy transition and economic development of our region.

For their success, we consider it extremely important and relevant to:

1) Hear the voice of the local population: use tools for broad participation of residents; to ensure the systematic participation of local NGOs in projects on transformation – from needs assessment to implementation;

2) Take into account regions’ values ​​and memory: to use in projects the tools for the development of local identity, preservation of cultural heritage.

3) Strengthen the role of communities, taking into account the principles of decentralization: ensure the involvement of communities transformation projects; to make inter-municipal cooperation a principle for international projects; strengthen the institutional capacity of communities through the training of qualified specialists in sustainable local development and integrated planning.

4) Give residents new perspectives: to strengthen additional education with the participation of various players (NGOs, businesses, educational institutions, employment centers, etc.); provide new ways of professional and personal development for the local population.

We offer our active participation in the implementation of projects and activities with:

– conducting analyses and research on transformation, local needs of the population and institutions, sustainable spatial planning;

– creation and carrying out of activities (information campaigns, festivals, etc.) on dissemination of principles of just transition;

– organization of dialogue processes between local players (forums, internal workshops, etc.);

– creation and organization of the centers of local population development, additional education, etc.

We are convinced that such actions can significantly contribute to the communities and residents of Donetsk region to become, first of all, active participants in the transformation process. Secondly, our communities can in the future become full-fledged European communities – just, green and productive.

NGO “Dobropillia Youth Center “DOBRO”                                        V.Oros

Public Coalition “Just Transition Alliance” consisting of:

NGO “Center of Initiatives “TOLOKA “

U.Mentor Center for Innovation and Partnership

NGO “Wealthy Man”

NGO “Soil”

Charitable Foundation “Parity”

NGO “Territory of Sustainable Development”

NGO “Development of Donbas”

NGO “Ukrainian Patriotic Movement of Donbas”

NGO “Public Space “Development” represented by A. Grudkin

NGO “Create Dobropillia”

NGO “Country of Free Community”                          V.V. Volskyi

NGO “Ukrainian Women of the XXI century”         N.V. Popova