Energy News Today

Polish Citizens Are Transforming Europe’s Biggest Coal Region

The Polish city of Rybnik stands at the heart of the largest coal-producing area of the EU: Silesia. With 83,000 people working directly in mines and an additional 230,000 people working in the sector, about 10% of the Silesian population is working in companies or other entities connected to the mining industry. Now citizens are showing the ability to power a new economic model.

Part of the local authorities’ effort to design a post-carbon plan, a project called Rybnik360 aims to transform the region in a just and inclusive way. Everyone is encouraged to participate – including the miners.

To make sure that transitioning towards a greener economy would be accepted, the first phases of Rybnik360 consisted of 180 in-depth interviews held, 2800 arguments mapped and 93 innovation ideas created together with respondents. The ‘Deep Listening report’ is the result of the perspectives collected.

“In Silesia, coal has been mined for more than 100 years and the mining culture has grown into ‘Silesianness’,” says Przemysław Sadura, researcher and author of the survey. “But there is a strong cultural identity here apart from coal, and this gives grounds for optimism, for hope.”

Local culture starts within communities and there lies the potential to move forward without “leaving noone behind”, too. “Miners have always stuck together. Working together for many years in the same brigade or department builds a strong sense of community. Miners’ families are friends with one another, which means that there is great potential for grassroots social organisation in the communities of the mining districts. Both elements are parts of Silesian social resilience.”

It all started in 2019 in Katowice, as the local authority had meetings with EIT Climate-KIC to talk about the future of the Silesia Region. “The question was: how to talk to people about the transformation, how to involve all stakeholders?” recalls Wojciech Kiljańczyk, chairman of the city council and a member of the board of SPIN-US (the research and technology commercialisation company of the University of Silesia in Katowice, and the lead partner in this project).

“We have to show people how to build a different economy,” Kiljańczyk adds. “The most important thing for them is the future of work. They need to know that they will have a job in the next industry.”

EIT Climate-KIC’s Aneta Skubida, the project manager of the Rybnik Deep Demonstration, explains that “it’s not only about pure technological innovations, it’s about building a strategy that is meant to be transformative, that is meant to be used by all the stakeholders, it’s about building capacities.”

Potential good practices include developing new businesses sectors that have a place in the new vision for the city: “green” (renewable energy, thermal upgrades and clean transportation), “white” (medical), “silver” (care services), IT, Industry 4.0, financial sector, BPO, and more. At the same time, a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises and labs, as well as a whole new concept of space with green areas, coworking offices, revitalised post-mining districts, sustainable buildings and eco-friendly public transport.

With so many opportunities opening up, the new society can also be more inclusive. The one-industry model, with one type of workers, is over.

According to Sadura, the necessary “cultural change is generational, but also gendered”: while “women have entered the labour market” and “they no longer want to be solely involved in the home”, “younger miners see the job only as an initial step in their careers”. And work itself, which “used to be about economic security”, now “is more and more about quality of life”.

“People can become catalysts of change,” Skubida says. “Local leadership can send a strong signal that there is an alternative to build a positive scenario, a chance to make people’s life better.”

Like anywhere else in the world, reaching climate neutrality is mainly a mission for central governments and companies, but the example of Rybnik proves that ‘deep listening’ is the sine qua non to beat reluctancy and create a just society.

For Skubida, “innovation is not only about technology but about society”. “Encourage people and stakeholders to think long-term.”

Read More: Polish Citizens Are Transforming Europe’s Biggest Coal Region

2021-02-26 18:01:03

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