Distributional impacts of mining transitions: learning from the past

May Thazin Aung and Claudia Strambo

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the special report Global Warming of 1.5°C. In it, the authors call for “far-reaching transitions in energy” that are “unprecedented in terms of scale”, in order to keep temperatures from rising 1.5°C above preindustrial levels and avoid a daunting outlook for people and the planet (IPCC 2018, p.17).

Dramatic changes in energy systems – as well as deep reductions in emissions and reduced reliance on fossil fuels – will inevitably affect distinct social groups differently, producing winners and losers. The importance of this social dimension in a transition was affirmed in 2018, with Heads of State adopting the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration at COP24 (Levaii and Vallejo 2018).

However, in order to address the social risks associated with low-carbon transitions, we must first understand them (Mabey et al. 2017). This includes looking at distributional impacts, or how policy interventions will affect different groups in society (Fell et al. 2019; UK Department of Treasury 2018).

Existing research has been mostly on fiscal measures (Green 2018; Mackie and Haščič 2019; Somanathan et al. 2014). There is little empirical evidence on the actual distributional impacts of mine closure and decline, particularly in regard to the type of measures designed to address them1 (Strambo et al. 2019).

Past energy transitions suggest that these impacts will be unevenly distributed across society and potentially disruptive. It is thus necessary to plan and implement strategies that address these uneven impacts (Fouquet 2010; Spencer et al. 2018). Increasingly, policymakers are turning more and more attention to socio-economic effects, particularly in regions that are highly dependent on coal for energy or export revenues (Sartor 2017; Wiseman et al. 2017).

This paper examines the distributional impacts of historical mine closure and decline, in order to inform current and future energy transition planning. It is based on a systematic map2 of published peer-reviewed academic literature on the social, economic and political impacts of declining extractive-based economies (see Strambo et al. 2019).

Specifically, we focus our analysis on the financial, psychological and labour-related impacts of mining closure and decline on gendered identities in mining communities and on youth. This focus is due to the frequency of cases within the literature that mentions these impacts on these groups. Our analysis looks at the vulnerability of these impacted groups on the individual, household, national and regional scale, as well as by income, race, ethnicity, age, locality (place of origin), gender and disability. We then discuss the effectiveness of implemented policy responses and initiatives in supporting these two social groups.

Aung, M. T., & Strambo, C. (2020). Distributional impacts of mining transitions: learning from the past. Stockholm Environment Institute.

Distributional impacts of mining transitions: learning from the past