The capital of Belgium was the venue of the “Balancing Coal and Climate: What is a ‘just’ Energy transition?” conference organised by the Polish Electricity Association and Politico. The panel participants have agreed that the regions of the European Union need support for the energy transition to be just.
“For many, the decarbonisation is not a radical idea but to us it is. We have 80 percent of energy coming from coal. The ambitious plans of the European Commission are actually radical to Poland”– said the host of the event Filip Grzegorczyk, Vice-President of the Polish Electricity Association and the President of the Management Board of Grupa Tauron. The President of Tauron has reminded that one of the main objectives of Poland is to preserve the stability of supply and the affordable prices of energy. “We must also respond to the challenge of energy poverty. We have to keep in mind that 60 percent of Poles earn not more than 500 euros per month. Can we expect them to pay more for energy and will it be just?” – rhetorically asked Mr Grzegorczyk.
Opening the main panel of the conference, the EU European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crețu has stated that many countries, including Poland, are still undergoing the energy transition process.
“It is important to have a strategy for building the sector based on the region’s advantage” – she said. She reminded that the European Commission is planning for funds for the transformation of the post-mining areas, although those funds will be limited due to Great Britain leaving the European Union. “We are able to develop tailored strategies for individual regions based on their specifics. We are ready to go ahead” – assured the Commissioner. “My motto is ‘no region will be left behind’” – she reminded.
During the conference, it was underlined how important in the energy transition process is the labour market. “Jobs in the coal sector are not everything. There are also the jobs in the dependent sectors” – said Megan Richards, Director of Energy Policy in DG Energy (ENER) of the European Commission. “Among others, there is a proposition to increase the spending on scientific research aimed at finding new technologies that will contribute to the growth of the clean and sustainable economy in the mining regions. We are striving at making sure the decarbonisation does not slow the growth but boosts it” – she added.
Cristina Pruna, Member of the European Parliament from Romania, noted at the same time how important it is for the energy transition in Europe to be just. “I come from a mining region that to a large extent is reliant on coal. This sector employs between four and five thousand people. This may not be a lot compared to forty thousand in Poland, but these people must have the money to support their families. If tomorrow we tell them we have to close the mines immediately, it will be a drama. It will cause a high risk of depopulation. Already now, in Romania we have hugely depopulated areas” – she warned.
Also, the ecologists had their voice in the discussion on the transition. “Renewable Energy Sources are already less expensive than the existing mines. So we have two options. Either the energy transition will happen due to market forces or we ourselves will cause it by intervening. This is why the governments should act so that no one is left behind, so that the coal-reliant communities gain on the transition” – said the Director of the Climate Action Network Europe, Wendel Trio.
“The energy transition should be just and should not be happening at the expense of the consumers and the employees of the sector. This is an area we are watching carefully. We need to take a look at the energy poverty problem at the same time as well” – stated Marion Labatut, Policy Director of Eurelectric. “The EU Member States are different, they have different starting points and are at different stages of progress of the energy transition. Some regions have diversified energy mixes, some still depend on a single technology. This is why funds for changes have to be provided” – admitted the panellist.