By Anna Mazur and Joanna Ogrodniczuk, KAPE
On 25 April, JUSTEM held its first cross-regional learning workshop with around 50 participants. The workshop had the aim to bring together different experts from the national level and the European Union to reflect and enable a mutual learning about ways to involve citizens in the development of territorial just transition plans (TJTP).
The central themes of the workshop were just transitions from coal and the role of citizens within. We asked our workshop participants what a just transition means to them. Participants associated different aspects with just transitions, from the process itself to the solutions that need to be implemented. Anna Sobczak (DG ENER, Just Transitions and EUI Florance School of Regulation), highlighted the essence of Just Transition in the EU context. She referred to the 3 key elements of the definition quoted in the Paris Agreement: justice; inclusiveness understood as partnership, dialogue; engagement and creating decent work opportunities – ensuring that no one is left behind.
Myriam Boveda (DG REGIO, Unit G1 “Smart and Sustainable Growth”) outlined that 67 TJTP have been prepared for 93 territories. Key priority areas for the planned investments from the Just Transition Fun are economic diversification and support to small and medium size companies, as well as sills and job-search assistance.
Although the involvement of stakeholders in the transition is part of the European code of conduct, most participants agreed that the citizens were not sufficiently engaged in the preparation of the TJTP. The lack of citizen participation has been also confirmed by the analysis of the TJTP in the JUSTEM project. One main finding was that stakeholder consultations took place in all countries, but citizens were not really involved.
At the event, representatives from JUSTEM’s mining regions, Rumyana Grozeva, Patrica Bosich, Maria Belarmina Diaz Aguado, Dariusz Stankiewcz and Anastasios Sidiropoulos, shared their perspectives, experiences and good practices in a discussion. Four key common challenges in just transition processes were identified in the discussion.
Four challenges of just transitions
Just transition communication
All discussants stressed the need to change the way of communication about the reasons and impacts of the process. Negative communication that focuses on problems such as job losses and costs for local companies results in negative thinking among citizens in coal mining regions. More emphasis should be placed on building people’s trust, communicating the benefits of the transition, and the new opportunities for citizens and their children.
It is necessary to communicate the topic in simple, easy-to-understand language. The use of technical jargon makes it very difficult to involve citizens in co-decision-making.
New visions for the region should be developed together with citizens and communicated in a positive and attractive way.
Level of governance
Another barrier to the smooth implementation of the just transition process is often the centralised approach to its management. In some cases, regional authorities have been invited to participate in the preparation of the just transition plan quite late, or not at all. This, in turn, implied that the element of involving citizens in the creation of TJTPs was often ignored. Citizens in these regions often did not have the opportunity to express their needs and concerns about significant changes in their region.
Participants were consistent in pointing to the need to decentralise the management of the process to fulfil the definition of a just transition in terms of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘justice’. Plans cannot be separated from the real needs and expectations of regional citizens.
Moreover, centralised decision-making creates the risk of bypassing important regional stakeholders, not only local citizens. In some coal-mining regions, communication between the central and regional levels was also a problem, often leading to the confusion about the division of tasks and the extent of involvement of local stakeholders.
This underlined the importance of regional and local decision-making powers to ensure that transition processes are embedded in broader socio-economic and energy policy transformations.
To ensure that the plans are tailored to the needs of all those living in coal regions, the consultation process must be universal and include the voices of those who will be directly affected by the energy transition.
In different regions, the level of citizen involvement varied and took different forms. Often it was through public consultations and social dialogue.
A great example is the Silesia Region in Poland, where three series of consultations were held with 2,000 people.
Unfortunately, in most regions, the preparation of the plans took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and the process was partly carried out online, which was a major challenge for the regions.
The participants emphasised the importance to engage different actors, also “smaller players” such as citizens and small and medium size companies in the TJTP implementation phase. People must be empowered and entrepreneurial spirits used.
Long-lasting transition process
Transitions are a challenge of the times and there will be winners and losers. Depending on their age, citizens have different needs, expectations and desires for change.
Some participants stressed the importance of focusing on the future. However, visions for the future are often lacking. Therefore, it is important to develop common visions and goals for a greener future and to involve citizens in this process.