Published on August 10, 2023

Taking Stock: progress on the implementation of the Just Transition Fund

, Joanna Jakubowska (CEE Bankwatch), Zuzana Vondrova (CDE, Bankwatch)

‘In the current stage of the just transition process, we must shift from planning to implementation’, emphasised Commissioner Elisa Ferreira in her opening speech at the fourth Annual Political Dialogue. Commissioner Ferreira added the need to prioritise the selection of the best projects to effectively communicate our achievements to citizens and demonstrate the positive outcomes of our daily work.  

The Annual Political Dialogue, which was followed by site visits in Czechia’s Karlovy Vary coal region, was a unique opportunity for stakeholders to ask questions, openly discuss and reflect on them.  

Since the introduction of the Just Transition Mechanism in 2020, the narrative around it has shifted significantly. Although at the beginning many did not see the phase-out of any fossil fuels as a realistic option, now this goal is a given. The corridors of this year’s Annual Political Dialogue were filled with brainstorming on potential projects that should be funded by the Just Transition Fund and how to ensure the right ones are selected and that the speed of implementation does not overshadow their real transformative potential. Clearly, after a long process of planning, drafting and adopting the Territorial Just Transition Plans, every single person involved in the process would like to start to see the tangible impact of this relentless work.  

What about the support for the regions and people on the ground to ensure that the objectives of the Just Transition Mechanism are properly implemented? Commission representatives repeatedly emphasised that with the end of the ExchangeEU programme, there are new opportunities for targeted technical assistance through JTPeers or JTP Groundwork. These new support instruments will be based on knowledge products and case studies, an expert database, and a peer-to-peer exchange programme for practitioners, as well as tailored capacity building and advisory support.  

With every new technical support programme, non-governmental organisations and local stakeholders place great hope in its potential to provide on-the-ground assistance, thereby enhancing capacity, knowledge, and the overall quality of the transformation. However, the challenge of ensuring the highest possible results on the path to building new resilient economies that leave no one behind and work both for the environment and people requires a lot of motivation and persistence. 

To get a full picture of some of the obstacles, CEE Bankwatch Network campaigners travelled to the neighbouring Ústí nad Labem Region of Czechia to visit hidden but outstanding places and to talk to local activists who embody the just transition in their daily life. One truly inspiring example of such a bottom-up initiative can be found in Litvínov, a town of some 23,000 inhabitants, where Petr Globocnik, a social worker and Litvínov city representative, created a unique place called Sousedsky dum.This neighbourhood house is located in one of the poorest areas in Czechia, just next to an open pit mine. In places with no work, no opportunities, and no hope, Petr has created a space where local people can gather, take part in events, sit together and chat in a friendly space, and – most importantly – where they can learn new skills. His active support gives people hope of finding their own way out of the vicious circle of poverty and exclusion.

In the context of the social dimension of energy transformation, it is crucial to showcase such positive examples, highlighting the power a local activist can have in the process of inclusion and cultivating civil society. Empowering individuals of all ages, including the youth, to develop their competences and knowledge not only equips them with the necessary skills for quality jobs but also improves their active participation and contribution to society. Unfortunately, Petr receives very little public support for his activities to alleviate the social issues in this town. The continuity of his project relies mainly on small grants and the kindness of individual donors.  

Some 10 kilometres away, we encountered yet another inspiring bottom-up initiative. In the town of Horní Jiřetín we had an opportunity to meet with municipal energy managers Jindrich and Jaroslav Gabriels, and the mayor Vladimir Burt at the local school. In the past, Horní Jiřetín was supposed to be destroyed in order to expand a nearby lignite open pit mine. Yet the persistence of the local community in the fight against the demolition of their town has paid off. The small town can act not only as an inspiration, showcasing bravery and determination, but it is also a frontrunner in investments in energy efficiency measures, including the full replacement of coal-fired boilers in municipal buildings and LED public lighting, as well as its municipal electrical network, which acts as a community energy system, connecting the public buildings in the city.  

Unfortunately, our meeting in Horní Jiřetín ended on a somewhat bittersweet note, when the mayor stated that municipalities are still not properly involved in the just transition process and do not have the same access to the Just Transition Fund as, for example, big energy companies. Surely, if available, this money could serve the right purpose in the town and potentially help with the further development of the community energy system or to connect photovoltaics and heat pumps.   

It is evident that although the Just Transition Fund has already brought a lot of hope and vision for the coal+ regions and – most importantly – to people living in these areas, the process still faces numerous barriers. These are challenges that can only be overcome with strengthened cooperation between all possible stakeholders and the involvement of thus far overlooked actors in the regions. In order to make sure that no one is left behind, just transition must focus on bottom-up movements, empower citizens and give the right support to municipalities and local activists.