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From restructuring to sustainable development. The case of Upper Silesia

The Silesian Voivodeship has a chance to become a model for a just transition of a mining region into a modern industrial and commercial region. The authors of the report “From restructuring to sustainable development. The case of Upper Silesia”, prepared by the WiseEuropa think tank in cooperation with WWF Poland, emphasize that the success of this process depends on the implementation of measures encompassing on one hand responsible restructuring of the traditional core of the local economy, and on the other,  building of new competitive advantages thanks to well-planned investment, social, transportation and environmental policies.

– In the coming decades the Silesian Voivodeship can achieve a level of development close to that of the prosperous countries of Western Europe. However, this requires completing the socio-economic transition and dealing with three challenges – economic, demographic and social, related to the quality of life in the region – indicates Maciej Bukowski, president of WiseEuropa and co-author of the report.

The report underlines that these challenges mean major restructuring of the region’s economy, especially accepting the inevitable reduction of the importance of hard coal mining, heavy industry and traditional, conventional energy industry. The authors show that according to the historical trends and detailed forecasts of profitability of extraction in Upper Silesian mines, by 2050 steam coal extraction will disappear from the region. Only the most efficient coking coal mines have a chance to survive until mid-century, however, they too will have to improve productivity and reduce their workforce significantly. Overall, by 2050, the number of jobs in the sector will fall to below 10 thousand and it will be seven times lower than currently.

– The long-term decline in number of permanent jobs in the mining sector cannot be reversed by modern coal extraction technologies or the so-called “clean coal technologies”, nor by implementation of governmental plans for the construction of new mines – highlights Aleksander Śniegocki, Climate and Energy project manager at WiseEuropa.

Experts point out that accepting this situation at the national and regional level would mean that measures could be determined to support the smooth development of the Silesian Voivodeship, and, at the same time, the necessary transition in a way that will be sustainable and secure for the people employed in the mining industry.

– It is the complex manufacturing, and not the energy or mining sectors, that enables a high level of industrialization necessary to ensure a sustainable, high level of prosperity in Silesia in the following decades. Therefore, the greatest developmental need of the regions is the diversification of the local industrial base with high-efficiency, low-emission manufacturing subsectors, such as the machinery, electrotechnical, chemical and pharmaceutical industries – stresses Maciej Bukowski.

In line with the recommendations outlined in the publication, measures that are strictly economic should at the same time find strong support in the initiatives taken up in other areas. This is especially true for projects changing the nature of municipal and transport infrastructure in the region. Because of a substantial increase in the investments in thermal modernisation of buildings and replacement of heating sources, it is possible not only to significantly improve the quality of life in the Silesian Voivodeship, and by that greatly decreasing the problem of air pollution in the Silesian cities, but also to support the expansion of the supply chain in a way that makes a large contribution to the local labour market and economy.

– Integrated developmental policy focused on attracting modern investments and comprehensive improvement of the standard of living in the region by revitalising the urban fabric and post-industrial areas, improving the availability and the standard of transport services, and significantly reducing emission of pollution and the intensity of mining-related damage, will increase the attractiveness of the Silesian Voivodeship as a place to live on the country’s map – explains Aleksander Śniegocki.

Experts emphasize that measures at the voivodeship level must be supported by the domestic and EU policies. According to the authors, just transition in the region requires a country-wide framework for the key sectors (energy, buildings, transport, industry), which would ensure that investments supporting restructuring and revitalisation of the region are implemented not only with the public, but also private funds.