03. November 2022Responding to the impacts of decarbonisation: Coping Strategies Inventory released
The CINTRAN Coping Strategies Inventory catalogues the different ways that people and organisations are coping with the impacts of decarbonisation policy. Gathered by examining newspapers from the past seven years, and talking to people paying attention to decarbonisation locally, the Inventory contains over 800 individual actions that can be grouped into over 40 different strategies.
Overall, the Inventory demonstrates that people, governments and organisations are trying very hard to make sense of what decarbonisation means, while trying to make sure that jobs, livelihoods and communities are preserved or improved.
We found that coping strategies can resist decarbonisation policy, adapt to policies but try to do so without causing too much disruption, or transform their situation so that things are done in completely new ways. Resistance strategies tend to dominate early in a transition, when there are first signs that coal, oil and gas activities will need to end. As the transition progresses there is more and more adaptation, and efforts at transformation. However, resistance is still continuing in all the EU regions we examined. This makes sense as there are still people and economies that depend on carbon, and people are still working out what life in a decarbonised world will look like.
How do different people cope?
Some of the most common strategies we found are general ways that people and organisations try to shape the world around us. The most common strategy we found was writing a letter or opinion piece in the newspaper. Depending on the person writing the letter, this strategy can sometimes be very effective. For example, when the head of the German IG BCE Union or an industry executive writes a letter in a major newspaper, it often leads to meetings with government ministers and changes in decarbonisation policies. We also saw this pattern in places like Poland and Spain. In contrast, when a local citizen writes a letter to the editor, perhaps about the impact of a wind turbine on their local area, it’s less likely to immediately result in policy changes. However, it does contribute to a wider public discussion and may, when combined with efforts by others, lead to policy changes. In the case of Germany, it actually led to a law making it harder to step wind turbine developments through local legal action.
This makes it obvious that it’s important to look at who is undertaking coping strategies. Some of the strategies we found, like meeting with government ministers, creating local economic development plans, or investing to create new economies, are only available to elite, influential or government actors. One example of such an investment strategy is the German EnBW which invested a lot of capital in a massive EV charge park at the Kamener Kreuz intersection. Also, when the chair of RWE complained in the newspaper in 2015 of the impact of proposed climate plans, he was invited to speak to national and regional government ministers to try to come up with a different plan. Those kinds of options aren’t available to everyone.
Others strategies, like going on strike to try to stop plans to cut mining jobs, or migrating to a new region for work, are usually only undertaken by coal, oil or gas workers and their families. Others still, like the letters to newspaper editors mentioned above, participating in public protests, or writing to government representatives, can be undertaken by anyone.
In general, who you are matters because it affects how much money you have, the connections you have, and the influence that you ultimately have on decarbonisation policy and its results. Actors without fewer resources often compensate for their lack of influence by participating in collective strategies that give their voices more weight like strikes, protests, or creating new partnerships.
Why does it matter how people cope?
Coping strategies shape how decarbonisation unfolds in different regions. Resistance strategies like strikes and protests, particularly on the part of citizens and workers, may seem unhelpful but can be part of the process of creating a more just transition. Policies are often created at higher levels and don’t consider all of the ways that they might impact citizens. By engaging in strikes, protests, or other resistance activities, people often manage to secure more support for citizens during the transition, including through worker severance packages, retraining, early retirements, or other compensation tools.
Not all resistance is ultimately productive. Many companies try to resist decarbonisation plans to try to keep making as much money off of fossil fuels for as long as possible. This strategy is rarely effective in the long term, but does delay progress toward decarbonisation.
Are there bigger changes happening as a result of coping strategies?
The most common strategies in the Inventory are adaptation strategies. These are often incremental or stepwise changes that represent slight shifts in business as usual. For example, restructuring a company, or making some energy efficiency improvements, might feel disruptive but don’t change too much about how the world works. However, they are very important because they represent slow and steady progress toward a decarbonised world.
We labelled strategies as transformative when they represented a significant shift in how things are done. Energy communities are a good example of this. While energy communities are relatively common in Germany, they’ve only become more popular in other countries in the past few years. When people or organisations, most often local governments and community groups, start energy communities, they are participating in creating what may become a completely different energy system from the more common top-down, corporate controlled system in most places today. We saw examples of energy companies emerging in direct response to decarbonisation policy in Greece and Bulgaria, with more examples emerging as the current energy crises worsens.
Collaborative processes are another transformative strategy. These processes are a very different way of making policies and decisions than we usually see. They involve bringing many different actors together for intense discussion and compromise on the path forward. The German Coal Commission was one such process. At the end of the decision process, almost all participants were able to agree to a set of solutions that they all felt they could live with. We don’t yet know how successful the Coal Commission will ultimately be because its recommendations are still being implemented. However, it is viewed as an example in other countries with places like the Czech Republic and Canada also undertaking coal commission processes for coal phase out (cp. also the CINTRAN policy brief on comparing coal commissions).
Other collaborative processes are also emerging at lower levels. For example, the Upper Nitra Region in Slovakia ran an extensive participatory process to determine how their Just Transition Mechanism would be designed and implemented. Deeply participatory processes take a lot of time because they involve a lot of kaffee and kuchen – talking, relationship building, and compromise. However, it’s becoming clear that this is often the only way to develop solutions that are supported by the different actors and interests who might otherwise resort to resistance strategies.
Many adaptation strategies have the potential to become transformative over time. For example, if investments in energy efficiency and demand reductions are so strong that they substantially reduce energy demand, we may end up completely restructuring our economy because there won’t be as much need for energy generation. Likewise, if some regions are able to completely shift from mining to tourism or other industries, the entire nature of a place might change. For many strategies, we won’t know if they have been transformative for many years.
Exploring the Coping Strategies Inventory
The Coping Strategies Inventory has many examples from all over Europe of different ways that people and organisations are responding to decarbonisation. You can take a look at the Inventory. We’ve also created a video to help you navigate the Inventory and filter for different keywords, depending on your interests. Early in 2023, a file with the raw data comprising the full body of coping strategies will be available for download. We’re still working with the dataset right now, but please contact m.c.brisbois[at]sussex.ac.uk if you are interested in accessing it earlier.
© The blog text is licenced under CC BY. Figures are excluded from this license.
Marie Claire Brisbois
Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy
University of Sussex
Science Policy Research Unit
Senior Researcher | Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
Energy, Transport, and Climate Policy Division