Transforming a Fossil Fuel Economy

Upper Silesia, Poland

Few places capture the complexities – and challenges – involved in ensuring the transition to clean energy is a just one as the Upper Silesia region of Poland. Coal supplies over 70% of Poland's electricity and the industry still has a powerful emotional appeal, thanks to the important role it played in the nation's struggle for liberation from Soviet Communist control in the 1980s. And yet, with Europe on fire and suffering from one heatwave after another, the need to begin a new chapter is increasingly clear for many.

Inspired by Al Gore's landmark documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," activists in the heavily coal-dependent region of Upper Silesia set out to tell the story of Poland's choice on energy and choice for its future and start a new public conversation.

The choice they sought to capture wasn't only how can we move on from the coal-fired power that kept the lights on and put millions to work, but how can we do it in a way that honours the past and ensures miners and their families have a place and dignity in a clean energy future.

To tell this story, they reached out to all sides of the issue, bringing in everyone from young activists to parents to faith leaders to scientists to former coal miners. By featuring such a wide range of different - and sometimes initially opposing - perspectives, they aimed to show how varying groups can come together to tackle a common goal.

What did they learn along the way? As Gosia Rychlik, Climate Reality Europe's communications and development manager, reports:

"There are three main lessons we have learned from this experience:

  1. Make sure to pick the right partners and local leaders - those that have a deep understanding of the problem, knowledge and expertise in the topic, and are well connected with the community, to your project.
  2. Make space for flexibility - your initial idea might take a (slightly) different turn under the influence of what you will learn throughout its duration.
  3. Brief your team members and partners properly, so all the well-informed participants of the project increase its value."

Watch our short documentary on just transition in Upper Silesia, Poland and learn how varying groups can come together to tackle a common goal

In Their Own Words

What was the problem you saw and which of the solution areas does it relate to?

The problem we are addressing with our project is the energy transition of Upper Silesia, a highly coal-dependent region of Poland. Coal makes up over 70% of the Polish electricity energy mix, thus energy transition is a vital, yet complex challenge. What is even more critical, the process needs to be just, that is, involve representatives of all stakeholder groups impacted by the change, and properly planned in order to avoid chaos and reactive decisions. In order to make it so, we decided to bring this topic closer to public attention. 

What was your idea/insight to solve it and the end result/vision you wanted to achieve?

Inspired by famous climate documentaries, and Mr. Gore’s “The Inconvenient Truth”, we took on to create a short documentary presenting the reasons for phasing out coal, the human-induced rapid climate change, and the vast opportunities resulting from the energy transition, like a healthy and clean environment, new job opportunities, and betterment of the regional economy. The short format of the documentary and a compelling script, allows us to tell the story in a serious, yet uplifting way. The end effect of the project is a 20-minute long documentary “Just transition: change by design, not disaster” that tells a story of a young climate activist exploring different perspectives on the energy transition and its implications. 

Why is this solution important to your country and community? 

Our objective is to increase the participation of local stakeholders in the planning and implementation process of the energy transition. We believe that in order to do so, we first need to raise awareness of the topic in a way that inspires our viewers to explore it more and get involved. That is why we have invited several Climate Reality Leaders, representing different demographic groups, to participate in the project in hopes of creating a message that resonates with the viewers - young people, parents, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and more.

How did you mobilize people to take actions?

Involving Climate Reality Leaders and local partners to participate in the project was fairly simple - these are the true heroes involved in climate activism on a daily basis. Now comes the second part of the project - reaching a larger audience through local screenings, online campaigns, and collaboration with a larger group of regional, national, and even European partners. 

Who were key stakeholders/partners that worked with you?

We can’t express enough how important it is to pick the right partners for the project - those that are highly knowledgeable, well connected, and deeply passionate about the cause. We have selected two main partners for the project: BoMiasto (a local non-profit organisation focusing on civic engagement) and StianMedia (a media company experienced in regional non-profit campaigns). As for the stories we picked for our short documentary, we deeply cared about presenting diverse perspectives - from young activists, through parents, faith leaders, scientists, and entrepreneurs, to former coal miners. We believe that this has helped us present how different groups can all aim for a common goal, that is, a just transition in the region.

What insight, ideas, or suggestions would you offer someone looking to take action in a similar way?

There are three main lessons we would like to share: 1) Make sure to pick the right partners, those that will bring knowledge, expertise, and network, to your project. 2) Make space for flexibility - your initial idea might take a (slightly) different turn under the influence of what you will learn throughout its duration. 3) Brief your team members and partners properly, so all the well-informed participants of the project increase its value. 

How did this project you created promote equity or justice in your community?

Equity and diversity are the bedrock of this project. The main ideas behind the project were to first, increase awareness on the matter so the energy transition process becomes more just, and second, to reflect as many perspectives as possible. We hope that by resonating with different audiences, we will engage more citizens to get actively involved in shaping the future of Upper Silesia.