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World Bank encourages governments to prepare for coal's demise, help miners

Roughly 4 million coal workers have lost their jobs across the globe over the last half-century as the industry developed mechanizations in the mines, faced environmental challenges and suffered economically from competition with other energy sources, the World Bank said in a report calling on nations to prepare for further decline.

In a Dec. 13 report titled "Managing Coal Mine Closure: Achieving a Just Transition for All," the World Bank examined the shift in coal markets around the world and the resulting layoffs as operations folded or cut back on staff. Sweeping changes have hit European coal industries and the U.S. and Chinese markets more recently, it said, devastating communities where coal is the dominant industry.

"The social risk posed by rapid coal mine closures, compounded by the variations in coal mine ownership, points to the important leadership role required of governments to plan and prepare for this eventuality" by preparing programs to train people for new careers and offering some types of "mobility support" to help unemployed people and their families move to a region with better job prospects, the report said.

While coal miners account for a small percentage of countries' overall workforces, coal communities tend to be in remote areas, and the local economy may largely depend on the mine, with few other employment options nearby.

"The compounding effect is significant and the rejuvenation of local economies in coal-dependent regions is a complex challenge and can fail even if good intentions and sufficient funds are deployed," according to the report.

The World Bank also announced that Canada and the U.K. would help the institution offer financial, technical and advisory support for developing nations that want to transition away from coal in favor of cleaner energy sources. Canada pledged C$275 million to fund a program to help developing Asian countries slow coal production in favor of low-carbon energy sources and the U.K. pledged £20 million to a World Bank program that helps low- and middle-income nations create cleaner energy solutions, according to a World Bank release.

"Our focus is on the human dimension and helping countries accelerate the energy transition," Riccardo Puliti, senior director and head of the Energy and Extractives Global Practice at the World Bank, said in the release. "A just transition for all means people's livelihoods and communities need to be protected and that requires a carefully managed, sustained, long-term approach."

The World Bank projects that Asia will be most significantly affected by future coal mine closures since global coal production in the West has fallen considerably by comparison. The U.S. produced 21% of the world's coal in 2000 but accounted for about 8% 16 years later. Meanwhile, China produced 30% of the world's coal in 2000 and 44% in 2016. India and Indonesia have also increased their output and now produce 10% and 6% of the world's coal, respectively.