The fact that the Climate Summit is being held in Katowice, the capital of the Silesia region – literally one of the last remaining coal mining regions in Europe, provides not only a symbolic setting for this meeting, but also raises a question at the heart of these negotiations: how can we phase out fossil fuels in time to limit warming to 1.5°C without affecting the people and communities whose jobs depend on them? A just transition – if managed correctly – can give us a pathway to a 100% renewable system while creating better jobs, a fairer future for all and a more equal society.
Today, the Polish government is launching a “Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration”.
It is hard not to read this declaration as a crowd pleaser without any intention to follow through with actions. Over the years, Polish governments have been systematically taking decisions that contradict their self-declared commitment to a greener energy future. Examples abound. In the Polish draft energy policy published just ahead of COP24, coal still counts for 60% of the national energy mix in 2030. Moreover, the government recently announced the construction of a new coal power plant in OstroÅ‚Ä™ka by the state-owned energy company ENEA, despite the protest of ENEA’s labour union which demanded skipping investing in coal and going for renewables instead. In the nearby town of Imielin, the local community has protested against a new hard coal mine, while the vast majority of Poles want a coal phase out and a transition to renewable energy. The Polish government is planning to proceed with the construction of new open-cast lignite mines, despite strong opposition by local communities and their mayors. The government has also failed to develop any concrete proposal to support the miners and the communities affected by the energy transition.
The transition from fossil fuels to a greener economy is unavoidable. It is time the Polish government stopped being hypocritical and started delivering on a concrete path to a just economic transition that combines urgent climate ambition, a complete coal phase-out by 2030 and secures the interests of affected workers and their families.
In order not to remain just a bunch of empty words, the Just Transition Declaration must:
Support 1,5C goal;
- consider all affected communities;
- cover every high carbon sector of the economy;
- be properly resourced e.g. via redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to enable JT strategies and social programs;
- be geographically targeted and connected to regional development planning because the new job opportunities, e.g. in the renewables sector, are not always created where the old heavy industries jobs are phased-out, and;
- be based on social programs; with new investments being made before closures happen.
A coal-free Silesia is as essential for decarbonising Poland as a coal-free Poland is essential for decarbonising Europe. Unless concrete measures are taken to support those who might be affected by change, fossil fuel companies and others with vested interests in the coal industry will use the argument of workers and communities to prevent action. That is why, if we are to achieve the goals outlined in the Just Transition declaration, all countries supporting it must commit to and implement measures to secure both social justice and rapid and ambitious climate action including ramping up NDCs.