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Cuts to EU Just Transition Fund put pressure on fossil fuel phase-out

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Silesia, Poland, July 2020.
Silesia, Poland, July 2020.   -   Copyright  Euronews
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The transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources is a key goal of the European Green Deal, but EU leaders have cut some funds in the recent recovery fund.

These funds are aimed at helping regions like Silesia, in Poland, that has a big coal-mining sector.

Workers there know that coal production has to be phased out but one trade union has warned that this will take at least 15 years and help is needed to avoid social disaster.

"The liquidation of mining in Poland means the liquidation of Silesia, and I say this with full responsibility," said Rafał Jedwabny, vice-chairman of the union Sierpien 80.

According to Jedwabny, it would mean tens of thousands of jobs would be lost in mining alone.

"Let's remember that one job in mining creates four to six jobs around mining here in Silesia," he said.

Poland is the EU's second-biggest producer of coal but is losing ground to competitors such as Russia.

The local authorities say people know the green transition is inevitable but employees need to be retrained and have other job opportunities.

Deputy mayor of the city of Ruda Śląska, Michał Pierończy, is optimistic that much of the EU's Just Transition Fund will go to their community, adding that it will be money well spent.

"I have the impression that they [locals] feel this direction and they know that we need to take care of ecology, we want to breathe clean air," he said.

Financial battle lines

To help mining communities, the European Commission proposed the Just Transition Fund of €40 billion in the recovery fund, but the Council slashed it to €17.5 billion.

The European Parliament said it will negotiate to raise this amount and urges governments to use other EU funds for the transition.

"Europe has to put its money in its priorities and if decabonisation is such an important priority to all the Europeans, then all resources should be directed to that," said Portuguese socialist MEP Pedro Marques.

He added that finance needs to be set aside for the transition to non-polluting energies, either through the Just Transition Fund or other EU policies like cohesion funds.

All member states will receive money, but the biggest beneficiaries will be eastern member states like Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. Germany, France and Italy will also get big slices of the fund.

Green dreams

Poland has yet to endorse an EU-wide objective to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and environmentalists vow to keep up the pressure.

"Polluting industries should not be allowed to receive any money anymore. EU governments had already agreed in 2009 to phase out fossil fuels subsidies but EU governments continue to give money to fossil fuels," said Sebastian Mang, climate policy advisor at Greenpeace.

The recovery plan stated that 30 per cent of all spending should go on measures meant to tackle climate change and its social and economic impacts.