Frank Bonner
Frank Bonner

The recent IPCC report highlighted the need to transfer away from fossil fuels. That is not a simple task since many jobs and communities have been built around the fossil fuel industries The Tories destruction of the British coal industry in the 1980’s and the resultant destruction of whole communities and a legacy of generational unemployment was political vandalism but graphically shows what happens when a whole industry is destroyed and nothing is put in its place.

The PSOE-led Spanish government have taken a different approach. In an agreement reached with the trade unions they intend to close the last of Spain’s coal mines by the end of the year without destroying the mining communities or leaving behind mass unemployment.

The Spanish coal industry is a mere shadow of what it was at its height in the 1960’s. However it still employs about 1,000 people in the privately owned mines mainly in Asturias and other northern areas of Spain. These are the people covered by this agreement. Negotiations with the few hundred miners left in publicly owned mines will now begin.

Under the terms of the new agreement the Spanish government will invest €250 million over the next 10 years under three headings:

  • Offering early retirement for miners over 48 years of age
  • Environmental restoration work in mining communities, and
  • Re-skilling schemes for cutting edge green industries.

This is the latest step in the government’s attempt to meet its climate change targets and follows on from the abolition of the “sunshine tax” imposed by the previous right-wing PP government on the solar industry.

Theresa Ribera, the ecological transition minister, claimed: “With this agreement, we have solved the first urgent task we had on the table when we came to government. Our aim has been to leave no one behind. We also want to go further, we want to innovate.”

In truth it is a relatively cheap deal for the government. The pits were only being kept open on the basis of a €2.1 billion state aid plan. However if countries are to reach their climate change targets then the move away from fossil fuels will mean coal and oil industries around the world closing down in the coming years.

Only time will tell whether the Spanish government plan will actually work. The timescale for these changes, 10 years in this case, means that government will change and the party in government may change as well. Whether a different party will be willing to continue to meet the bill is one unknown. Another is whether the deal is actually enough to ensure the smooth change it foresees to green industries in these areas. It is also unclear at present what, if any, contribution the mining companies are making towards the cost of this deal.

One thing is for sure however and that is that this approach is a far better one than that taken by the Thatcher government all those years ago in the UK.

Frank Bonner

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