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French town sets precedent for life after coal

March 10, 2019

Loos-en-Gohelle is a town in the north of France whose coal mines were active for 150 years. After the last mine closed in the 1990s, unemployment and poverty gripped the town. The town also had to deal with the environmental ramifications of the extraction process.

The population then started to hold assemblies to unite entrepreneurs, local government representatives and neighbors in order to find a solution. They developed a series of ideas to reshape the community and drafting a plan they presented to the state.

Unlike other communities in the area that chose to boost the automobile industry (which was in crisis at the time), the population of Loos-en-Gohelle thought that a better solution lay in promoting local activities. This led to a rise in sustainable construction of new buildings and the remodeling of both old houses and of local buildings with an aim to reduce the cost of heating.

Aside from energy efficiency, the sustainable construction industry had also specialized in recycled materials. The industry has also developed techniques and plans to ensure a degree of efficient climate protection. In fact, nowadays, the town has a center offering professional training in eco-construction and companies based in other regions send their technicians there to train.

Recycling has made Loos-en-Gohelle the center of research and development both in new materials and in new processes. They invest 12 million euros a year into the effort. All the results of the studies are published and feed directly into a network of engineering centers in France.

The town also relies on solar and wind energy in order to generate electricity. The commitment to renewable energy lead them to establish a diagnostics center to check the manufacturer’s reliability claims and test new technologies.

The Resource Center for Sustainable Development combines research initiatives from the government, businesses and environmental organizations. The town also has a collection of environmental companies focused on sustainable construction, renewable energy and ecological town planning.

This economic model is based on citizen participation. Assemblies have maintained a rate of 40 public meetings a year. The locals have complete freedom to suggest ideas and the municipality can finance them with a 50-50 partnership.

There were a few difficult years after the last coal mine closed, but Loos-en-Gohelle has reinvented itself. Today, any trace of a past carved out by carbon is now a tourist attraction labeled a World Heritage Site.

The Tico Times is a member of Latin Clima, a collection of journalists and newsrooms working together to report on climate change throughout Latin America. This story was originally published by El Cronista Comercial and LatinClima on Feb. 12, 2019. Read the original Spanish version here.


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