Instead of subsidising the mining industry in Silesia (one of the Polish main coal regions), available funds should be spent on creating new jobs for miners and on retraining programmes.
The Silesian miners‘ trade unions, which for months, under the aegis of the Solidarity trade union, had been meeting with the government with a view to drawing up a so-called social agreement, have finally got what they wanted. On World Earth Day, the agreement prolonging the agony of the Polish mining industry was signed. Among other things, the agreement includes an agreement to pay miners a one-off severance pay of PLN 120 thousand, a timetable for closing the mines and a guarantee of employment until retirement. The parties also reached a consensus on wage indexation in the mining sector for the next four years. The content of the agreement has not been made public yet. It is worth emphasising that the main partner in the talks with the government was the Solidarity trade union head office. It has reported the progress of the talks to the other unions, with the outcome of which not all miners agree.
The schedule for mine closures assumes that mines in Silesia will be closed in 2049. According to the opinions of experts from independent think tanks and taking into account economic conditions, this is definitely too far away. The miners‘ agreement with the government also provides for subsidising the mines‘ production activities to the tune of PLN 2 billion per year. For this type of state aid to be granted to coal companies, the consent of the European Commission would be needed. Moreover, local governments have not been invited to talks on the future of coal mining in Silesia. This is surprising, as it is they who will have to meet the challenges of mitigating the effects of the transformation.
Poland’s Energy Policy until 2040, adopted in February this year, assumes 37-56% share of coal in the energy mix in 2030 and 11-28% in 2040. This share is to depend on the prices of greenhouse gas emission allowances (ETS), which were underestimated in the document. These allowances, which according to the document were to cost about EUR 40 per tonne of CO2 in a dozen or so years, already cost that much today.
Neither Poland’s Energy Policy, nor the agreement with the mining unions, which postulates an end to hard coal mining in Silesia by 2049, are consistent with the vision of decarbonisation and achieving climate neutrality, neither by 2050 nor later. Consequently, both documents are not consistent with the European Union’s climate policy, and their shape poses a threat to Poland’s energy security and is inconsistent with the principles of fair transformation.
According to mining and geological engineer Alina Pogoda, who is the just transition expert in Polish Green Network and the author of a briefing analysing the economic situation of the coal mining sector in Poland, the money that would fill holes in the increasingly unprofitable coal mining industry should be used to create new jobs and programmes to change and improve qualifications. Miners have a range of technical skills which, following training, will allow them to find work in the renewable energy sector or in the construction industry in the field of thermomodernisation. These are the industries which will be the focus of the economy of the future.
The briefing of Alina Pogoda not only analyses the economic situation of the hard coal mining in Poland, but it also points to the trends prevailing in the European climate policy and presents recommendations regarding decarbonisation and the just transition related to it:
The country’s energy transition is not just about one mining sector or one region and should not be subordinated entirely to the demands of one social group. A social agreement aimed at building a consensus on the future of Poland’s coal regions should be discussed among experts, local governments, local business, social organisations, universities and all groups affected by the coal mining sector.
Both EU and national funds must be spent on creating alternatives: new jobs for miners together with comprehensive support programmes to find employment for those made redundant and help them improve their skills. At the same time, it seems crucial at this point to create new, renewable sources of energy to ensure the country’s energy security.
The reality of climate policy and the rising costs of generating energy from coal could lead to the sudden and unplanned closure of mines. Therefore, a clear and realistic decarbonisation path needs to be set. The timeline of mine closures proposed by mining trade unions and Poland’s Energy Policy should be aligned with EU CO2 emission reduction targets.
Labour market instruments for miners should be activated as soon as possible, including:
a) the maximum limitation of hiring new employees in the mining industry and defining the principles for the relocation of laid-off employees to other mines that are still in operation;
b) ensuring monitoring of competences and key positions, which will help with the transition between jobs within the company;
c) support for retraining.
A consistent programme of social protection should be effective and efficient already at the time of mine closures to ensure the greatest possible support for former workers.
A realistic schedule for the closure of mines must be established as soon as possible in order to be consistent with other documents and plans which describe the allocation of EU funds. Investments financing energy transition and just transition in the National Recovery Plan and Territorial Just Transition Plans must complement each other.
The conversation about moving away from coal should include all stakeholders, which are not only miners but also entire communities in coal regions. In order to make the right decisions that will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, all groups that will be affected by the transition must be involved in the process. Key regional decisions cannot be made behind closed doors. Poland wants a just transition that is carefully planned and based on a solid knowledge base and broad communication.