While underground coal mining in Albania stopped almost wholly (except for two private mines with a very insignificant output) more than 15 years ago, the abandonment of the mines from the 1990s onwards with no proper plans for closure has left a legacy of risks. These include water contamination, subsidence, and methane leakage (a powerful greenhouse gas, which also brings dangers of fires and explosions if not properly managed).
As Tirana, Albania's capital, is expanding, new settlements are also being built in the post-mining areas close to the city. UNECE experts have therefore recommended to put the post-mining areas under surveillance and continuously monitor them regarding water hazards and other risks. UNECE further advises the government not to consider reopening any coal mines, and instead focus efforts on green energy and sustainable development in these areas.
To support this, experts and decision-makers from Albania and several other countries gathered for a workshop on just transition in mining communities and the potential for geothermal energy development. The event organized by UNECE and hosted by the National Agency of Natural Resources of Albania (AKBN) in Tirana on 20 June aimed to explore ways to transform post-coal mining areas into thriving and sustainable hubs of green development.
Adrian Bylyku, Director of AKBN, emphasized the importance of embracing green transition and the principles of carbon neutrality. Workshop participants highlighted the need to align the pace and scope of the transformation process with each country’s unique capacities and needs, considering their natural resources, technological foundations, cultural heritage, and legal framework.
The first part of the workshop focused on mine closure and the transformation of post-mining areas. The recently developed UNECE guidelines for an efficient, safe and environmentally conscious mine closure program in Albania and Serbia formed the basis for the discussions. and will guide efforts to reclaim and repurpose the land . Experts, decision-makers, and international participants from Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine shared their insights, experiences, and aspirations. Presentations from representatives of Albania and Ukraine provided valuable perspectives on the challenges and opportunities surrounding post-coal mining areas.
To support these efforts, a new UNECE study on geothermal resources was presented and discussed, shedding light on the cost-effectiveness and potential benefits of utilizing geothermal energy in Albania. The study emphasized the need to adhere to the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) and the United Nations Resource Management System (UNRMS). By establishing suitable geological models and conducting comprehensive assessments, Albania could tap into its geothermal potential, diversify energy sources (which today are over 95% hydropower based), improve living standards, and address environmental concerns. Experts representing the Central American Integration System (SICA) provided inputs on the application of UNFC for geothermal energy, with specific case studies from El Salvador and Costa Rica.
Together with the study, the workshop’s open discussion will help Albania to identify practical steps towards a green and just transition in post-coal mining areas, providing rich views on understanding the country’s existing needs, capacities, and challenges while also addressing the barriers hindering effective action from central and local authorities and uncovering these obstacles and exploring opportunities .
Oleg Dzioubinski, UNECE Regional Adviser , stated “through collaboration, dedication, and the implementation of evidence-based strategies, the post-coal mining areas of Albania could become examples of successful transformation, paving the way for other countries to embark on their journeys toward a green and just future.”