von Alina Pogoda, Polish Green Network

Polish Mayors for Just Transition

What to do after shutting down the power plant? How to effectively cooperate with trade unions and business? Konin has become the Polish capital of just transition and a place of interesting discussions on development after coal. The authorities of Polish coal regions were present at the meeting in Eastern Wielkopolska.

Just transition is a complex process. That is why the places where the 4th Forum of Mayors for Just Transition was held are not accidental. These are important coal regions: in Bulgaria, in Stara Zagora and in Poland, in Konin. Eastern Wielkopolska is a leader of just transition in Europe, so it is not surprising that the WWF Foundation decided to organize the Polish edition of the Forum right here.

On 29th of September, a series of discussion panels devoted to just transition took place at the Oskard Cultural Center in Konin. The examples of transformation of mining regions in Poland and abroad were taken first. The vice-mayor of Turek, Joanna Misiak-Kędziora, talked about how the city coped with the shutdown of the power plant. The region’s authorities expected a large increase of unemployment, but the workers were hired by the local sector of small and medium-sized enterprises. Unfortunately, the mayor did not explain exactly how the local business intervened and prevented a social catastrophe. The conclusion, however, was that just transition must be carefully planned by the regional authorities and implemented in cooperation with all stakeholders. Representatives of non-governmental organizations from the Lusatian region in Germany also took the floor. Franziska Stölzel and Valentina Troendle spoke about challenges and opportunities in the structural change of Lusatia and advocated the active involvement of citizens and civil society in the coal phase-out.

The topic of the next panel was a planning green transition and economic diversification in mining communes. The President of Wałbrzych, Roman Szełemej, presented a very detailed analysis and the scale of challenges related to improving the energy efficiency of residential buildings in the region, which is a key step towards decarbonisation and achieving climate neutrality in 2040. If Wałbrzych manages to achieve this goal, it will be a decade ahead of the date set by the European Union for climate neutrality.

The Mayor of Konin, Piotr Korytkowski, emphasized during his presentation that the city has a lot of investment areas that can be used to diversify its economy. He announced the development of logistics in the region and the production of hydrogen from biomass. The latter, according to ecological organizations, is a dubious and harmful move for biodiversity, because the forests from which biomass is harvested mainly have a significant ability to accumulate carbon dioxide. Currently, in the large investment areas around Konin there are chemical companies – Johnson Matthey and Chemat, but at this point it is not enough for the region to be able to talk about the completed process of economic diversification.

The third discussion panel was devoted to the problem of reclamation of post-mining areas. Jan Bondaruk from the Central Mining Institute and Katarzyna Fagiewicz from the University of Adam Mickiewicz emphasized that it is necessary for the communes to have an idea for the development of these areas even before the reclamation begins. In fact it is important, and there is an example of Malta Kleczewska – a reclaimed post-mining area, which, despite the beach infrastructure, does not attract many tourists. The reason may be the poor hostel base nearby and the lack of additional attractions. It is imperative that the direction of reclamation and land development are consulted with the local community. This will allow to estimate whether a given place has a chance to become an element of community life, whether it will become a nature habitat, or whether its commercial potential can be used.

Also during this panel, Daniel Baliński from ZE PAK shared his presentation on the green development strategy. In 2030, the company plans to generate 100% of energy from renewable sources. The company boasted that as part of actions for the just transiton, it created 15 new jobs for former employees of the ZE PAK Capital Group, assembling photovoltaic installations. It cannot be denied that this number is strikingly small and the region is certainly hoping to create more new jobs. In particular, when it comes to a company that applies for significant funds from the Just Transition Fund, which is intended to support small and medium-sized enterprises.

The topic of the last discussion panel was energy clusters and energy cooperatives. The energy cluster „Zielona Energia Konin“ shared its presentation about the goals and challenges for its activity. The main problems facing energy clusters today include difficulties in obtaining a license to trade in energy or the lack of legal instruments that will ensure the possibility of actual storage of generated energy.

After these interesting speeches, there was definitely no time for discussion. The questions from the audience were extremely interesting and deepened the problematic. It was as if all the time devoted to the speeches could be easily filled with a lively discussion of all participants of the Forum of Mayors.

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