Published on April 13, 2020

Silesia’s civil society works towards just transition

, Emilia Slimko (Polish Green Network)

In the last years, civil society in Silesia has become increasingly active in promoting a just transition for the region – here is an overview of some key developments:

The BoMiasto association and civil initiatives

The conference titled “Katowice 2050. Sprawiedliwa transformacja” organised in March 2018 in Katowice by the BoMiasto association and the Polish Green Network was one of the first initiatives launched by civil society to promote the notion of just transition in Silesia. This event can be seen as the start of public debate on whether such transition in Silesia is possible.

Experts from the Polish Green Network, the Institute for Structural Research, the Energy Forum, the Regional Analysis and Strategic Planning Centre at Silesia’s Marshal’s Office and the mayor of Wodzisław Śląski jointly debated about the possible consequences of the present form of industrial transition and about the best method for planning the process of a complete coal phase-out so that it is socially just. They also tried to answer certain important questions, for example whether opening new mines is in the interest of local communities and whether phasing out coal is a threat, a necessity or an opportunity for Silesia. In addition, the conference provided an opportunity to encourage members of local governments to become more interested in the issue of just transition.

From the civil society’s perspective, the Social Climate Summit held in Katowice to accompany the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) organised in December 2018 was another important event in the context of just transition. It covered a series of various public events held outside of COP24’s extraterritorial area, during which city activists, non-governmental organisations and residents of Silesia presented their points of view. The Green Ideas Laboratory workshop resulted in the preparation of a social manifesto titled “Green future for Silesia”, in which local citizens demand a change in Poland’s energy system and a “new coherent energy policy based on extensive social dialogue between citizens, experts, scientists, activists as well as local and regional authorities”. The debate on just transition held during the Social Summit was conducted in a broader context of climate change and international efforts to stop the climate crisis. It was attended by experts from the Central Mining Institute, the Euro-Centrum Science and Technology Park in Katowice and climate speakers associated with The Climate Reality Project.

“In the Science and Technology Park, we have been dealing with the issue of just transition for some time now but we did it from an engineering and technological point of view. Some time ago, I noticed that we were overlooking the social context, the sociological context, the psychological context and the environmental protection aspect. Due to this very technocratic approach to the problem we were losing sight of these elements. The series of debates we are holding made me think that we need a multifaceted perspective. At present, we are organising meetings, writing manifestoes and at the same time we are forming a group of experts in different fields,” said Patryk Białas, president of the BoMiasto association, director of the Innovation and Competence Centre at the Euro-Centrum Science and Technology Park in Katowice, Katowice city councillor.

At the beginning of 2019, the BoMiasto association inaugurated the Silesian Climate Movement, for which just transition is one of its priorities. The Movement is composed of several thematic sub-groups which are involved in various forms of educational, awareness -raising and advocacy activities.

“We intend to build a climate movement in Silesia for which just transition will be one of its priorities. Since the Climate Summit, we have cooperated with around fifty individuals, we hold regular meetings and debate about what we can do and what type of actions we should launch. This is a grassroots democratic initiative. We established nine working groups and at present are shaping our identity. I believe that within a couple of months we will be ready to trigger a grassroots change and put pressure on politicians to implement these changes,” said Patryk Białas.

Involvement of civil movements and organisations from Imielin

The issue of just transition has also been raised by residents of Imielin, who object to the plans to mine hard coal from the new Imielin-North field. Having received support from the Polish Green Network in 2018, representatives of the Zielony Imielin association took part in two working meetings of the EU Platform for Coal Regions in Transition held in Brussels.

During the first meeting, they presented the mine’s contribution to environmental degradation and its impact on the town’s residential areas, and expressed their concerns and objections regarding mining projects that are not supported by the local community. During the other Platform meeting, they delivered a speech as part of a panel dedicated to local communities’ participation in the transition processes in mining regions.

As part of civil society’s involvement in transition, the activists from Imielin carried out activities during the COP24 conference in Katowice. Due to the fact that foreign journalists and reporters dealing with the issue of Silesia’s transition had visited Imielin ahead of the COP24 and that the town also hosted the international Climate Pilgrimage, the issue of just transition got good coverage in Polish and international media.

Trade unions

Just transition is an issue which trade unions have been dealing with since the 1990s. Their long-standing involvement in this field, as well as support offered by civil society organisations and the private sector, has resulted in this concept becoming one of the major objectives of the Paris Agreement. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, “more than a decade long advocacy [on the part of trade unions – author’s note] during negotiations regarding climate and the environment resulted in social aspects being recognised as an integral part of policy making and of planning and implementation of climate activities”.

Just transition is defined more broadly in the globally binding guidelines published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Trade unions have coined the term and defined the objectives of just transition on the basis of experience gained by regions that had gone through industrial transitions. The trade union’s goal was to devise methods for relieving workers of the costs of these changes.

In Silesia, the “KADRA” Trade Union Federation, a member of industriAll – European Trade Union and industriAll Global Union, is particularly active in this field. Its membership of international structures enables it to take part in processes connected with the issue of just transition. Alongside its foreign partners, “KADRA” was actively involved in promoting the concept on the occasion of the climate negotiations held in Katowice in 2018. During a conference organised for trade unions, Dorota Gardias, president of the Trade Unions Forum,13 spoke about the significance of just transition and decent work:

“In connection with the efforts to counteract climate change, it is our wish for transition to be just and to bring benefits to all workers. Therefore, we need simple tools and easily applicable solutions based on the principle of cooperation, especially with trade unions, taking the national realities, good will and trust into account”.

This text is a fragment of the report “Just Transition of Silesia. Challenges from the civil society perspective – analysis and recommendations”, published earlier this year by Polish Green Network, a Bankwatch member group in Poland. The fragment offers an overview of activities conducted by civil society in Silesia towards Just Transition and gives a sense of the progress made so far. Photo by Jakub Szafranski for Bankwatch, shows activist Alicja Zdziechiewicz from the Save Imielin group.