Navigating coal mining closure and societal change: learning from past cases of mining decline

Claudia Strambo, May Thazin Aung and Aaron Atteridge

Over the next decade, coal mines will likely close across the world, as many countries shift their energy systems away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy. This will not only be driven by climate policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also by other factors that diminish the appetite for coal-fired electricity generation. These other factors include the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy and concerns about air pollution and water scarcity, as well as global shifts in the areas of coal demand and where it is mined. More than 80% of known coal reserves will have to be left in the ground to have a 60% chance of keeping warming to 2°C, according to some estimates (McGlade and Ekins 2015).

A potentially rapid decline in coal production (Carbon Tracker Initiative and Grantham Institute 2017; Mercure et al. 2018) raises important questions about the impacts on workers, mining communities and producing countries, as highlighted by the growing debate on “just” transitions (Evans and Phelan 2016; Newell and Mulvaney 2013). These impacts will be potentially disruptive and unevenly distributed across society; planners will need to grapple with how to plan and implement strategies to mitigate these impacts, and how to create alternative social and economic foundations that can sustain coal-dependent areas (Green 2018).

Some researchers have started to look into historical cases of regional transitions away from coal in order to draw out lessons for future coal transitions (Sartor 2017; Schwartzkopff and Schulz 2015). While useful, this evidence base is limited to a few empirical examples from the coal sector in mostly high income countries. But other examples – from economies centred not only on coal but also on other natural resource extraction – can help shed light on the current situation facing coal mining regions around the world. Many communities in both high- and low-income countries have experienced the impacts of declining production, workforce redundancies, and mine closure. This study explores what can be learnedfrom these cases.

In this paper, we assess the existing knowledge base to better understand the economic, social and political consequences of mine closure at the national and subnational scales, as well as the measures taken by different actors to mitigate these impacts. To do so, we systematically mapped published literature on the social, economic and political impacts of declining extractive-based economies. From these historical cases, we extract some lessons that might help guide communities and governments incurrent coal production areas as they prepare for an end to mining.

Our review focuses on how transitions have historically affected demographics, employment and national and subnational economies, as well as the resulting changes in infrastructure, political institutions, collective identities and social networks. We also ask how, if at all, these impacts were managed or mitigated, what actors were involved and what strategies were tried, and to what extent outcomes are documented.

In this paper, we first provide an overview of our methodology and then describe what geographic areas and natural resources are covered in the literature. We then distil some insights about the causes of decline and the impacts experienced locally or at a national level, and we look at the responses of different actors. Finally, we identify some research gaps that, if filled, could provide further insights to support transitions away from the extraction of coal and other fossil fuels.

Strambo, C., Thazin Aung, M., &  Atteridge, A. (2019). Navigating coal mining closure and societal change: learning from past cases of mining decline. Stockholm Environment Institute. Retrieved from

Closure, Post-closure
Navigating coal mining closure and societal change: learning from past cases of mining decline