Upper Silesia is the largest beneficiary of the Just Transition Fund. For now, only one in four projects is ready for implementation.
The good news for Upper Silesia is that a huge amount of EU money is waiting for this Polish coal mining region. The bad news is that the deadline to use it is rapidly approaching. In Upper Silesia, less than 60 per cent of projects are at the project fiche stage, and 26 per cent are ready for implementation. Projects with transformative potential, such as those that diversify the local economy, need to be finalised by the next call, which starts in early 2023. But 71 per cent of the Just Transition Fund must be spent by 2026 – quite a short timeframe given the progress made so far. Despite the challenges faced, there is a spark of hope.
The latest Regional Observatory for Just Transition (ROPT) meeting, which occurred in Tychy, Poland, at the beginning of February, presented some projects that will help Upper Silesia transition away from coal. The ROPT, an initiative organised by Silesian Marshall Office, supports and improves the management of the social and economic transformation process in the Silesian Voivodeship by disseminating knowledge and initiating cooperation between local partners. The meetings of ROPT are organised in every Silesian subregion, which the Just Transition Fund will support. The ROPT initiative is an excellent and unique example of a genuine partnership and discussion about transformative projects.
During the February meeting, participants had the opportunity to hear about how European funds for the Silesian Voivodeship Programme for 2021-2027 have been implemented thus far. They also learned more about the challenges concerning the transformation process in the context of the provisions of the region’s Territorial Just Transition Plan.
But the main event of the meeting was the presentation of projects proposals that will be implemented under the Just Transition Fund in the mining sub-regions of Upper Silesia.
Up to 38 per cent of the projects seeking Just Transition Fund support are related to the deployment of renewable energy sources. Twenty-one per cent of the projects relate to restoring post-mining areas and giving them new functions. Fifteen per cent of the projects will upgrade and change workers’ skills. Only eight per cent of projects are related to innovation, new technologies and entrepreneurship. This, unfortunately, augurs poorly for the funds’ transformational potential. Upper Silesia must diversify its economy and invest in manufacturing, in green industries, which will help create new jobs. Building photovoltaic panels alone will not make the energy transformation nor just transition.
ROPT is the space for sharing project ideas that Just Transition Fund will finance. During the meeting of ROPT for the Katowice subregion, offices and institutions from mining municipalities presented their plans, including a project to revitalise the blast furnace in Ruda Śląska, the RES (renewable energy sources) Training Centre, the RES Installers Group developed by the Polish Mining Group, and the KSEENON Business Accelerator in Bytom.
Unfortunately, there was little information about the number of new jobs planned in the descriptive parts of the projects. This may be because the projects are indeed only at an early stage. A high proportion of the ideas presented concerned the revitalisation and change of function of post-industrial sites. The European Commission and the Marshal’s Office of the Silesian Voivodeship are paying attention to giving these areas economic and environmental roles.
Unfortunately, time pressure is the biggest challenge, because a large part of the Just Transition Fund must be spent by 2026. Fortunately, local authorities in Upper Silesia are putting significant effort into preparing good, transformative projects. They are organising many meetings with stakeholders on the projects and sharing information. Local offices still need expert support, as well as the creation of new jobs for people strictly dealing with the topic of transformation, which is extensive and urgent. Silesia is not alone – other Polish coal regions have similar challenges, and all of them need to find good, systemic solutions.