Brown Coal Mining in the Czech Republic -Lessons on the Coal Phase-Out

By Lehotský, Lukáš; Cerník, Mikuláš | International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs, July 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Brown Coal Mining in the Czech Republic -Lessons on the Coal Phase-Out


Lehotský, Lukáš, Cerník, Mikuláš, International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs


Coal burning is one of the main sources of C0a emissions and driver of the climate crisis. The rapid phase-out of coal is therefore one of the most pressing aspects to climate change mitigation and key to the overall transition away from fossil fuels. While some countries have already shut down coal production (i.e. coal mining and coal consumption], many others are still reliant on coal. In some cases, like the United Kingdom, the market was one of the main drivers behind the decommissioning of coal power plants and mines.1

However, if existing energy consumption patterns continue phasing out coal in countries reliant on coal will be neither a straightforward nor a simple undertaking - mainly on account of local or national legacies.8 Coal consumption is tightly linked with the availability of coal. In some large coal consuming countries, the availability of domestic coal symbolizes security and energy independence.3 Coal is currently one of the cheapest, most stable sources of energy, both developing and developed countries rely on it for their economic development. In countries where coal mining and coal consumption are in private hands, it still creates lucrative business opportunities, despite the strong pressure to phase it out. Even when businesses are pushed into divesting coal assets, they tend to do so for economic reasons, and companies are still finding ways to generate economic opportunities for coal expansion.4 Phasing out coal poses an imminent economic threat to mining companies, as do the tools for internalizing economic externalities, such as the financializing of COa allowances, or the tightening up of restriction on emissions and pollution. In these cases they are likely to resist using all options available to them.

Many coal mining regions have developed a vital economic dependency on mining, which provides them with an important source of economic revenue and employment. In addition, coal mining has also become deeply culturally embedded, shaping the identities of individuals living in mining regions.5 On the other hand, coal mining has also been the source of many injustices, such as the destruction of habitats, environmental degradation and the disproportionate health burdens borne by the populations of mining regions.6

In light of the above, we think it important to provide an empirical and exploratory overview of the coal industry in the Czech Republic, an example of a large coal consumer in the EU. This overview of existing policies may help us better understand why some states fail to phase out fossil fuels quickly and highlight lessons that other countries could take on board when considering making the transition from carbon-intensive fuels. We have chosen the Czech Republic as our case study for several reasons. It is a post-communist EU country with a high level of coal consumption and an industrial economy. In fact it is one of the largest coal consumers in the EU, after Germany and Poland. Coal is a deeply entrenched component in national energy production - 47 per cent of the electricity produced and BU per cent of the heat used in central heating systems is generated using coal, mainly brown coal (83 per cent and 7U per cent respectively].7 Furthermore it is still common for houses to have coal-fired heating. Most of the brown coal is mined and burned in facilities located in very close proximity to the coal mines. Domestic brown coal is then exported in the form of cheap electricity to neighboring countries (mainly Germany and Austria]. Czechia is unique because it has long pursued a coal phase-out policy; yet, it is also a country in which the phasing out of coal is a deeply political issue, with strong legacies. Coal production has strong supporters and opponents, with the state being both mildly pro-coal but reluctant to take steps to phase it out. Consequently the Czech Republic seems to be split and undecided over the future of coal.

Our primary goal in this article is to look at the factors which have led to the existing situation in the Czech Republic and then identify what is special about the Czech case as this may prove useful for other countries considering transitioning away from coal. …

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