Konin, Poland: Konin is a medium-sized town of some 70.000 people in the Wielkopolska Voivodeship of Central Poland. Its economy has been relying on coal mining for more than 80 years, and the industrial heritage is a source of pride for many residents of the region. Nonetheless, a structural transformation is currently taking place, which threatens local livelihoods and the future of the economic base of the region. While the mines and power stations owned and operated by the ZE PAK corporation remain the region’s largest employer, with 4000 employees, this number has been reduced by more than 80 percent since the 1990’s. Depopulation and brain drain are already big challenges and projections indicate it will only get worse in the future. Konin is not unique, but rather a typical example of a region dependent on an industry which is in structural decline. History shows that regions like this are vulnerable to social issues and poverty if left without the necessary support for transformation. With foresight and sufficient financial backing, however, it is possible to diversify the local economy, build new industries and for it to become an attractive place to live and work once more. In Eastern Wielkopolska this is exactly what is happening.
Just Transition refers to the transformation of regions like Wielkopolska which ensures that no-one gets left behind socially and economically as the economic base of the region changes. Just Transition is a key part of the EU’s push to reach its climate targets through the European Green Deal. In January 2020, the European Commission proposed the creation of a Just Transition Mechanism to provide targeted support to carbon intensive regions like Konin. The Just Transition Mechanism is worth EUR 55 billion and is granted to EU regions that deliver Territorial Just Transition Plans detailing the ongoing transformations taking place locally and plans of reaching the EU targets.
In Konin, local activists and stakeholders began working on Just Transition topics already in 2017. In 2019, a diverse set of stakeholders including local government, NGOs and unions succeeded in coming to an agreement on Just Transition in the Wielkopolska region. They set out to spread their idea of Just Transition to the local population and local businesses and to the EU-level in Brussels. While many other regions, both in Poland and abroad, have sometimes opted to limit stakeholder participation in the drafting of Territorial Just Transition Plans, partnership and cooperation has been at the core of the process since the very beginning in Konin. When the first draft of the plan was submitted to stakeholders for comments, they responded with over 70 pages of suggestions for improvement.
Recognising the expertise of the NGOs involved in the process, the local government opted to include more than 60 percent of the suggestions they provided to the document. The result is one of the most progressive plans in CEE. The plan is based on two key pledges: a 2030 phase out date for coal use in electricity and heating and a 2040 date for achieving climate neutrality. This means that the plan is one of very few which aims to over-fulfil its own national target. Moving forward, the key will be to engage local businesses and residents of the entire region to propose and implement the right projects so that the funding provides the necessary transition and transforms the region into a vibrant one which looks to the future and leaves no-one behind.