Published on October 9, 2021

Forum of Mayors for Just Transition – a summary from Poland

by Alina Pogoda (Polish Green Network)

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

Just transition is a complex process. That is why the two locations where the 4th Forum of Mayors for Just Transition were held were not accidental. Two important coal regions were chosen to host the event: in Bulgaria, Stara Zagora, and in Poland, Konin in Eastern Wielkopolska.

Eastern Wielkopolska has lately become a leader of just transition in Europe, so it is not surprising that the WWF Foundation decided to organise 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.

Examples of transformation of mining regions in Poland and abroad were discussed first. The vice-mayor of Turek, Joanna Misiak-Kędziora, talked about how her city coped with the shutdown of the power plant. The region’s authorities had expected a large increase in unemployment, but this didn’t come about as the workers were eventually hired by local small and medium-sized enterprises. Unfortunately, the mayor did not explain exactly how the local businesses intervened to prevent 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 in this session. They talked about how to effectively involve mining trade unions in the transformation process.

The topic of the next panel was planning for the green transition and economic diversification in mining communes. The president of Wałbrzych, Roman Szełemej, presented a very detailed analysis of 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 anticipated 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 mainly harvested have a significant ability to accumulate carbon dioxide, which is thus lost. 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 Adam Mickiewicz University argued that it is necessary for municipalities to have an idea for the development of these areas even before the reclamation begins. The example of Malta Kleczewska – a reclaimed post-mining area, which, despite the beach infrastructure, does not attract many tourists – was used to show just how important early planning is. The reason for the lack of success of this particular project may be the poor hostel base nearby and the lack of additional attractions. It is, hence, imperative that the direction of reclamation and land development are consulted early on 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 should become a nature habitat, or its commercial potential can be used instead.

During the same panel, Daniel Baliński from ZE PAK shared his presentation on the green development strategy of the company. In 2030, the company plans to generate 100% of energy from renewable sources. The company boasted that as part of actions for just transition, it created 15 new jobs for former employees of the ZE PAK Capital Group – in assembling photovoltaic installations. It cannot be denied that this number is strikingly small and the region is certainly hoping to create more new jobs. This is most certainly expected from a company that applies for significant funds from the Just Transition Fund, which are otherwise primarily 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, they said, include difficulties in obtaining a license to trade in energy and the lack of legal instruments that ensure the possibility of actual storage of generated energy.

After these interesting speeches, there was hardly any 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.

Photo by WWF.