Silesia for a green futureDecember 2, 2020
Author: ALINA POGODA
The inhabitants of Silesia are in agreement that the region needs to undergo a major transformation in the coming years. The economy of the Metropolitan Association of Upper Silesia and Dąbrowa Basin (Metropolia GZM) is based largely on coal mining, thus, in order to ensure a just transformation, new areas of development must be identified to safeguard the futures of those currently employed in mining. This is a key process, bearing in mind the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will make it possible to minimize the impacts of the climate catastrophe.
In October and November, during the fall COVID-19 lockdown, Silesians and experts met for an online workshop in the series "Just transformation of Silesia," organized by The Climate Reality Project Europe and the BoMiasto association. The goal of these meetings was to share information and just transformation best practices, define challenges and approaches, and plan campaign activities.
The importance of dialogue
Participants in the meetings pointed to the vital role of social dialogue in the transformation process. Top-down decision making, without wide consultation, can lead to a lack of public support and trust. In order to encourage people to engage in dialogue and participate in the process of developing a new vision for the region, it is essential to provide all stakeholders with information about the rationale behind the just transition, and the related goals and opportunities. For this reason, an information campaign is necessary, as is the creation of institutions and platforms through which people and entities willing to become involved in the process can be connected and share their points of view. All the available local media, such as newspapers, radio, and television, should be used to reach interested parties. Since the necessary dialogue will not emerge in a community that is unfamiliar with the problem as a whole, education on the just transition should be proposed, and the expression of opinions should be encouraged. Acceptance of the just transition process is the first step to building dialogue and cooperation, and the inhabitants of Silesia want to be a part of it.
Green Upper Silesia 2050
The inhabitants of this region are keen to create a community for cooperation, with the goal of realizing the vision of a Green Upper Silesia 2050 — a region powered by energy from renewable sources, with cities where you can breathe clean air and where the environment is preserved and protected from mining damage. Activities identified as leading to the achievement of this goal include, among other things, the replacing of boilers with installations that run on renewable energy, the thermal retrofitting of buildings, the development of public transport, and the creation of urban green spaces.
Nor have the Silesians forgotten about the miners, who will need to find employment in other industries. A just transition must provide public and private support for workers affected by the transition to a zero carbon economy, to help them retrain, acquire new skills, and secure jobs. It will be crucial to identify the competencies of miners and to find new specializations for them — for example in the renewable energy industry, or in construction. The development of these sectors, along with the circular economy and recycling, will create jobs not only for the people leaving mining but also for the many young people who find such industries attractive in terms of quality of work.
During the workshops, the participants from Upper Silesia pointed to the very important role of local governments in piloting the just transition process. Local governments have close links with the population, they know the specific character of the region, and they, together with the inhabitants, should define the directions for its development. They must also be given transparent information about the mine closure plans in order to prepare the local community and the labor market in advance.
The inhabitants of Upper Silesia acknowledge that the transformation of the region is accelerating significantly, and that the coronavirus pandemic is contributing to the pace of this acceleration. The economy of Metropolia GZM can be rebuilt, but this must be done sustainably, according to the wishes of its inhabitants. The members of the Silesian community wish to live in cities and villages that do not rely on coal, and to enjoy clean air, safe employment, and healthy outdoor spaces. The inhabitants of Upper Silesia demand to have their voices heard and to have the right and opportunity to decide on their own future. They know that their region must opt for green and sustainable development, which is the only way to ensure good health and quality of life for the inhabitants of Silesia.
This article was prepared as part of the Upper Silesia Just Transition program by Climate Reality Europe, Team Poland.