By Antonio Franković (IRENA)
The topic of energy transition is just starting to gain momentum in Croatia. While the Territorial Just Transition Plans in this country have been finalized and sixteen projects have been marked for support from the Just Transition Fund (JTF), citizen participation and awareness about the topic are still quite low. Therefore, Just Transition is still not a very familiar term to citizens and there is definitely room for improvement.
The case of the Kršan Municipality
The entrepreneurial and innovation incubator of the Kršan Municipality is one of the sixteen beneficiaries of JTF financing. As Kršan is one of the main target areas of the Croatian Territorial Just Transition Plan, this incubator will serve to develop new technologies and products and will aim to position the Municipality as one of the technologically more developed local government units in Croatia, offering new jobs and reskilling and upskilling opportunities. Symbolically, the refurbishment, reconstruction and conversion of a building formerly used for coal seperation is being considered; the building should be put to the use of the incubator.
Once settled, the innovation incubator of Kršan will need to attract investors. For that purpose, the Municipality is working to solve legal property relations and ensure financial incentives in the form of subsidies for new potential investors. The business zone plot distribution is also accelerating, so to stimulate employment and production. It is now clear that local residents will be indispensable for the successful start and implementation of this JTF project, and the Municipality will have to identify interested parties beforehand for promotional and co-financing purposes. The residents of Kršan therefore need to be better informed of future activities in this field.
Engaging local citizens
Considering how much the Just Transition will affect the Kršan Municipality – the region hosts the last coal plant in Croatia, with more than 200 employees – engaging citizens is also in the interest of local authorities which are preparing the coal phaseout. IRENA – Istrian Regional Energy Agency, one of the partners of the JUSTEM project, co-organized a citizen-oriented workshop with the Municipality in the City Hall on Tuesday, 4th July 2023, with a total of 32 attendees consisting mostly of local residents.
After an introduction to the general topic, process and goals of Just transition, participants heard about national, regional and local plans for the Just Transition in Croatia. They learned about the possibility to get involved and the connection between their engagement and future outcomes of the plans. From their feedback, it was clear that the workshop served well its goal of raising awareness about Just Transition issues and sharing important information about current Just Transition goals and activities on all governing levels.
What do citizens need from the Territorial Just Transition Plans?
Main points of interest raised by the participants included opportunities for new employment, useful social policies, the need for energy communities, the focus on renewable energy sources, financial support for parents, and enhancement of local infrastructure, all in the context of the Just Transition.
Some issues and concerns were also reported during the workshop. Citizens expressed skepticism about their involvement in the Just Transition process and showed concern about the difficulty of attracting new entrepreneurs to the future business area being built in the Municipality with the support of the JTF. These issues were addressed in the session and will be further discussed in upcoming workshops planned by IRENA.
The most important impact of the workshop, however, is the fact that citizens have started to, slowly but surely, participate in the Just Transition process. They will, with time, be more and more informed and equipped to keep track of ongoing activities related to the Just Transition in the Kršan Municipality and will be aware of their possible influence on these activities.
The feedback gathered in this and upcoming workshops will support JUSTEM partners to better assess the processes of Just Transition, as well as to analyze and process the current needs and concerns of citizens in the affected areas. For IRENA, this represents a good knowledge base to be used in following workshops. For the JUSTEM project, this will be beneficial in crafting future policy support and paving the way to clean energy use while upholding the increasingly important principle of leaving no one behind.
The complete workshop summary is available here.