The vital importance of communication and commitment were key messages to emerge from the speed conference “Driving Community Dialogues – Developing an Inclusive Territorial Just Transition Plan for Upper Silesia,” which took place on the evening of July 8, 2021.
Participants at the online event, chaired by energy transformation campaigner Izabela Zygmunt and hosted by Climate Reality Europe and the Polish NGO BoMiasto, heard inspirational messages from representatives of the Silesian Marshall Office, Silesian NGO BoMiasto, Greenpeace Poland, and the European Parliament.
Focusing on Silesia’s positive response to the challenge of transition and its role as a benchmark for what is achievable throughout Europe, excerpts were read from a statement issued following a visit to Silesia by Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, who was unable to attend the conference.
First to speak was Patryk Bialas, leader of BoMiasto NGO, who outlined Silesia’s success in ensuring opportunities for public participation and consultation, which have allowed all stakeholders a chance to comment on the draft Territorial Just Transition Plan currently being prepared in order to apply for support from the European Commission’s Just Transition Fund. Months of events, including webinars, debates, and workshops, have demonstrated strong commitment on the part of civil society to phasing out fossil fuels and moving to a clean energy future. In this context, the potential opening of new mines in Silesia has raised important concerns, particularly as it represents a threat to the financial support being offered by the EC for the region’s transition.
Dariusz Stankiewicz, Regional Development Manager at the Silesian Marshall Office, then took the floor to present the actions and ambitions of the Marshal’s Office in the context of Silesia’s application for support from the Just Transition Fund. He described how a team of 59 representatives of local government, trades unions, mine owners, mineworkers, municipalities, and NGOs is coordinating the process of drafting the Territorial Just Transition Plan, the second version of which is currently subject to consultation.
In a pre-recorded video message, Niklas Nienass German politician and member of the European Parliament Green party, explained how the German Constitutional Court has recently ruled that German climate law is insufficient to provide a path away from dependency on fossil fuels. He spoke of Germany’s failure to plan for a post-coal future, with miners still being trained at a time when mines had already been earmarked for closure. His argument was presented clearly and forcefully: Investments that are doomed to failure will merely limit the opportunities available to future generations. We have a responsibility today to make future-oriented decisions in regions where economic prosperity is currently linked to fossil fuels in order to ensure that businesses can continue to produce wealth in decades to come. Rather than short-term investments, we need to make the “big leap” of commitment to a clean energy future.
Echoing the earlier speakers, Joanna Flisowska, head of the Climate and Energy Unit at Greenpeace Poland, gave similar emphasis to the importance of frank dialogue and ambitious goals. The EU’s climate goals are insufficient: Science is showing us that we need to do even more, and accelerate the pace of the changes. Early action and a long-term direction will result in predictability for companies and investors, allowing them to develop new business models in all sectors, not just energy.
With the floor opened for questions and comments, the members of the panel were invited to respond to a message submitted by Piotr Skubała of the University of Silesia, in which he argued that the economic pressure of mine closures and the urgency of the climate crisis necessitate a revolutionary approach to the transition rather than the slower-paced “evolutionary” process in which the interests of the mining industry are accommodated, and new mines are even opened, thus jeopardizing the security of future generations.
In response, Joanna Flisowska for Greenpeace reiterated that the EU’s current goals are inadequate to address the climate crisis. Local goals need to be more ambitious, ultimately meaning no more coal or gas investments.
For the Marshal’s Office, Dariusz Stankiewicz stressed how the drafting of successive versions of the Territorial Just Transition Plan is taking place within the framework of Poland’s central government and the EC. The negotiations are taking place according to a schedule that cannot be accelerated. The pace of change necessary to avert the climate crisis is rather a question for scientists, while the planning of mine closures is the responsibility of the mining companies and central government. The local authorities in Silesia, which is Poland’s biggest coal-mining region, face the enormous challenge of meeting the needs of all stakeholders, including the mine owners and employees. However, bearing in mind that EC funding is under threat if new mines are opened, the authorities have written a letter to the president of the EC to outline the full complexity of the situation.
While acknowledging the limits of local government competence, Patryk Bialas insisted that, in the face of inevitable large-scale redundancies among miners, it is vital for the region to have access to EC funding that will enable it to retrain employees and create new jobs.
Rounding off the panel’s feedback, Niklas Nienass spoke of the enormous future potential of coal regions, insisting that the energy transition should not be presented merely as a transition away from coal, but as a transformation to a healthy economy, innovative clean energy solutions, and a just society in which no one is left behind.
Summing up the panelists’ contributions, Zsolt Bauer of Climate Reality Europe referred to the heroic efforts that have already been made in terms of collaboration between civil society, NGOs and the Marshal’s Office in Silesia. At the same time, he reminded participants that in terms of forging a Green Vision for the Silesian region, and for Europe as a whole, lessons learned to date are contributing to the ongoing invention of what a just transition will come to be.