The European Commission has approved the Territorial Just Transition Plans (TJTPs) for three central and eastern European countries in the last two weeks, worth over EUR 4.45 billion, with Poland being the biggest beneficiary of the Just Transition Fund (EUR 3.8 billion).
The European Commission’s approval follows the lengthy process of drafting Territorial Just Transition Plans throughout Europe over the course of more than a year and with the engagement of many stakeholders – from civil society organisations to trade unions to local and regional authorities. The approval of the TJTPs in Latvia, Poland and Slovakia marks a significant milestone for the just transition regions in central and eastern Europe and the beginning of just transition implementation.
The regions of Upper Nitra, Košice and Banská Bystrica have received EUR 459 million for just transition. The biggest allocation of funds is for the Upper Nitra region, 51 per cent of all funds, followed by Košice (36 per cent) and Banská Bystrica (13 per cent). Upper Nitra is the only coal mining region in Slovakia, and it plans to phase out lignite mining and burning at the Nováky power plant by December 2023. The workers in the coal sector will be provided with new job opportunities. The Just Transition Fund will also support energy efficiency measures for public buildings and innovative solutions for renewable energy in Upper Nitra.
The emphasis in the Košice region is on re-skilling workers in the steel industry and creating new job opportunities in the renewable energy sector, energy storage and modernisation of district heating networks. In Banská Bystrica, the projects will focus on increasing the energy efficiency in public buildings and using geothermal resources while providing education for workers in the sector.
In Latvia, the Just Transition Fund will support the phase-out of peat for energy generation, as well as peatland restoration in the Vidzeme, Latgale, Zemgale and Kurzeme regions, with EUR 192 million. The fund will also support the development of a climate-neutral economy through investments in small and medium-sized enterprises and renewable energy. It is estimated that around 1,600 workers in the peat and other carbon-intensive sectors will benefit from the re-skilling and up-skilling programmes supported by the Just Transition Fund.
After lengthy negotiations, the European Commission adopted TJTPs worth EUR 3.85 billion to support a just transition in the coal regions of Silesia and western Małopolska, Wielkopolska, Lower Silesia and Łódzkie. Although the TJTPs have been approved, Poland must comply with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, a prerequisite for unlocking the funds for Just Transition and Cohesion Funds.
Most of the funding, EUR 2.4 billion, is allocated to Silesia and Western Małopolska for the transition to a green economy and providing new job opportunities in the regions. Silesia, the biggest coal region in Europe, is expected to provide around 27,000 new jobs as a direct impact of the just transition measures; in addition, training for 100,000 workers in the fossil fuel sector will be provided. In Western Małopolska, funds are allocated for the energy efficiency of public buildings and housing, including support for building insulation and the installation of renewables.
To help Wielkopolska transition away from the lignite mining industry and power plants, EUR 415 million will be used for the decontamination and restoration of the degraded area and investments in renewable energy production. Funds will support training and re-skilling for 5,500 workers in the coal industry, and investments will also be directed towards building insulation to increase energy efficiency.
EUR 581.5 million in Lower Silesia will be used to diversify the local economy with an emphasis on the green sector, which will create 1,000 new jobs in the carbon-neutral sector. Investments in renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, replacement of boilers and insulation of buildings are expected to increase energy efficiency in the region.
In the Łódzkie region, where the biggest single CO2 emitter in the EU is located, the lignite power plant Bełchatów, EUR 369.5 million will be used for energy efficiency and developing renewable energy resources. Since Poland has committed to substantially reducing the region’s lignite extraction and combustion capacity, funds will support the training and re-skilling of power plant workers and miners.
A historic opportunity that can’t be missed
The approval of the TJTPs for Latvia, Poland and Slovakia is an important milestone in the just transition process. It represents a truly historic opportunity for carbon-intensive regions to transform economies and society into carbon-neutral and just ones. The implementation phase that follows the approval must be based on the principles of inclusiveness and transparency with a clear vision of what is next for transitioning regions.
In the process, it is crucial for the just transition regions to secure funding and provide capacity building for the local civil society organisations and public administrations implementing TJTPs. Ultimately, the Just Transition Fund is an opportunity to kickstart a just transition, which will not succeed without the continued involvement of all those impacted by the changes and further discussions on the decarbonisation of the regions.
However, it is important to note that the Polish TJTPs are dependent on following the rule of law requirements. If the regions begin spending the funds and this issue is not resolved, the Polish government could be required to pay this large amount of money from its own budget if it does not comply with the EU’s expectations. The regions are in dire need of the support, and many have been waiting for the funds to begin flowing in. Thus, for the Polish regions, the approval can be seen as only a partial success, easily reversed into a failure if Poland does not follow through on its commitments. We can only hope that the Polish government does not leave the regions stranded without the EU money it has been promised.