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Ensuring a Just Transition: a key to the success of climate negotiations

The clean energy transition will create huge economic opportunities, in terms of growth and employment. But it will clearly also leave workers depending on fossil fuel industries without jobs. As COP24 concludes, it becomes clear that we need to ensure a just transition for these people too, if we want to shift to a low-carbon emitting economy.

coal mining

Poland will not abandon its coal mining sector. By hosting the conference in the coal mining city of Katowice, greeting delegates with “The Polish Coal Miners Band”, displaying coal soap and jewellery at their booth, decorating it with piles of coal, and sponsoring the talks with coal industrials, Polish have made their point very clear. The Polish President’s opening remarks left little space for doubt: “We have supplies for 200 years, and it would be difficult for us to give up coal — thanks to which we have energy sovereignty”.

Despite many people calling it provocative, the Polish message has succeeded in putting a very important subject on the table: the “Just Transition”. This has been one of the central themes here in Katowice, with dozens of conferences on the topic. How does a country, in which 80% of electricity currently comes from coal-fired power plants and which has approximately 100’000 people working in coal mining (according to Euracoal), transition to clean energy without leaving many on the side of the road? Ensuring a “Just Transition” is all about answering that question. On December 3rd, Michal Kurtyka announced the adoption of the “Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration”, signed by 54 world leaders. "The choice we are making is not between jobs and natural environment, but whether we are going to keep both or none of them" declared Polish President Andrzej Duda in his opening remarks.

And this is not only about Poland. “This (the Silesian Declaration) is very pertinent for the African continent. Some countries in Africa have huge coal resources. It’s very hard to take these countries out of it. They want to know who is going to pay for the costs” says Joao Duarte Cunha, Chief Climate Finance Officer at the African Development Bank, met on the Moroccan Pavilion at COP24. Today, coal accounts for 29% of the world’s energy supply and generates 44% of global CO2 emissions.

The clean energy transition is going to make winners and losers. And we need to find a way to bring the losers on board” adds Joao Duarte Cunha. Finding new job opportunities and reskilling the workers is therefore one of the priorities of the Just Transition. These can be in renewable energies, of course, but not only. Innovation, and particularly, social innovation, can be strong economic development drivers, as pointed out by our partner Climate-KIC. “There is a lot of social innovation already going on in Upper Silesia. One can see it in places like Dąbrowa Górnicza with its Factory Full of Life, Living Street and Yes App initiatives, Gliwice Community Garden and Hackerspace in Katowice” states Climate-KIC in a recent release. “What is needed, therefore, is a bold, visionary approach coming from the region, that would embrace the economic, environmental and social aspects of just transition and put citizens at the heart of things, and empowered to innovate. Focusing, on common values, beliefs and aspirations will further bolster these efforts”. EIT Climate-KIC has started a specific programme to assist industrial regions to transition to low-carbon economies through innovation. Known as Re-Industrialised Labs, it is based on citizen engagement and mass innovation.

Public policies are key to these socio-economic changes. But so is investment. The European Investment Bank has shown the example by investing over €200 million in the city of Katowice to support them in their clean transition. During COP24, EIB further announced a €29 million loan to finance Posejdon complex, the first Nearly-Zero Emission Building in Poland. The Green Climate Fund is also actively participating in helping carbon-emitting regions shift towards clean economies. “50% of our money is invested in adaptation projects” says Simon Wilson, Head of Communications at GCF. The World Bank also made a major announcement at COP24 by committing to double its investment plans for low-carbon projects to $200bn over the next five years. "Climate change is an existential threat to the world's poorest and most vulnerable" said the World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim.  

Overall, the Just Transition is about getting everyone on board. As we very well know by now, the clean energy transition will only work if it has massive public support, and helping workers who depend on outdated technologies and energy sources to adapt to this shift is crucial. The Just Transition is about giving hope to everyone.