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A just transition for Western Macedonia - an irreversible path to sustainable growth

Tasos Chatzellis

The Western Macedonia Region (WMR) is located in the north-west part of Greece, bordering Albania to the west and North Macedonia to the north. It covers an area of 9,451 km2 and comprises mostly mountainous and semi-mountainous land (82%).

The WMR is well known for being the centre of national electricity production from fossil fuels (lignite mines). The first systematic research on the detection and evaluation of lignite in the country began in the wider area of Ptolemaida, in 1938.

In 1955, LIPTOL Company was founded for the purpose of exploiting lignite and using it for the production of briquettes and nitrogenous fertilisers, and for electricity generation. In 1975, LIPTOL merged with PPC (Public Power Corporation - DEI S.A.).

From the beginning of the operation of the lignite mines until the end of 2017, PPC mined 2,064 million tonnes of lignite in the areas of WMR and Megalopolis, whereas the corresponding total excavations amount to 9,558 million cubic metres.

However, the WMR is NOT well known for its natural environment of large mountains and rich water potential. The many mountains, wetlands and agricultural ecosystems provide environments where a particularly rich and significant biodiversity is able to thrive.

The WMR is also NOT well known for:

► its 24 Natura 2000 areas 

►its Prespa and Northern Pindos national parks

► its 47 wildlife sanctuaries 

► the River Aliakmon, the biggest national river, along which dams and large artificial lakes have been constructed.

During the hard times of the industrialisation of Greece (1962?1973), the population of the WMR served its purpose well, giving the appropriate impetus to the industrial revolution. However now, with the growth of green energy/economy, the WMR should follow a suitable and irreversible path of sustainable development.

Under these prospects for sustainable development, the Greek government has set a goal of withdrawing all lignite plants by 2028, the majority of which ? representing more than 80% of the current installed capacity ? will be withdrawn by 2023. This goal marks the official transition of Greece to a diversified electricity generation mix that is not based on lignite.

Given that the main economic activity in the region linked to energy production from fossil fuels will stop, a significant change to activate the social and economic transformation of local communities will be needed.

Now, with the growth of green energy and economy, the WMR should follow a suit able and irreversible path of sustainable development”

The need for a transition will be based on the following five growth pillars:

clean energy industry, small 

industry and trade 

smart agricultural production 

sustainable tourism 

technology and education.

These five pillars underline the need to move towards an economic model that emphasises modern and clean energy while enabling prosperity and including more sectors of the local economy.

The action plan that is currently being drafted is not just another plan; its implementation must be seen as a difficult national operation to restart the WMR economy in the context of the current financial crisis and the COVID-19 crisis, in line with the concept of the European Green Deal.

The country's aim to keep pace with the new development and environmental standard will ensure that the new fair transition model of production is not a sole matter of sectoral or horizontal policy but a concern for almost all public policies. Synergies and complementarities should be developed, whereas all relevant funding resources should be deployed in a harmonised manner, enabling the transition to a green economy.

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL