Poland's Energy Transition Offers Strategies for Shifting Away from Fossil Fuels, Even in a Changing Energy Landscape

A new report by scholars at Resources for the Future and the Polish think tank WiseEuropa examines Poland’s energy transition away from coal to analyze solutions that could help decarbonization efforts worldwide.


June 1, 2022

News Type

Press Release

In a new report out today, scholars from Resources for the Future (RFF) and WiseEuropa—an independent Polish think tank—examine Poland’s energy transition to distill lessons that could help decarbonization efforts in the United States and around the world.

This new report is the third installment in RFF and Environmental Defense Fund’s series on energy transitions in Europe. Notably, this analysis examines the transition away from coal in Poland’s Silesia region, which began with the country’s shift to a market economy. Silesia, a region located in southern Poland, has historically been a major producer of coal. Over the decades, however, changes in local and global markets have made Silesian mines increasingly less profitable, and the resulting output declines have financially endangered the communities and workers that rely on the coal sector. In this region, the authors note, the transition away from coal is driven more by long-term economic trends than climate policies. Even though recent coal price spikes and the EU’s recent decision to ban Russian coal imports may temporarily benefit the Polish coal industry, its structural decline is expected to continue in the coming years.

“The conflict so close to our borders has reignited conversations about our own energy future and how we address it during times of crisis,” report coauthor and former WiseEuropa analyst Aleksander Śniegocki said. “But it is imperative that we keep working toward systemic change in the energy sector. We cannot afford to wait or go backward. An energy transition is also a regional economic transition, and this takes decades. Ignoring the ongoing changes and failing to enact policies to smooth that transition proactively is likely to create a crisis of its own down the line. It’s not a question of whether we should change, but rather one of how we go about changing fairly and efficiently.”

The report, which was largely complete before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, looks at the big picture of energy transition and accompanying regional economic policies for Silesia. The authors’ analysis highlights several lessons for continued Polish energy transition efforts, and for other countries including the United States:

  • Plan early and allow time for implementation without trying to prolong inevitable decline. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Proactive planning and implementation reduce the cost of economic support for a declining industry. Costs and the risk of adverse outcomes tend to increase with delay.
  • Look at the wider context when designing transition policies. It is important for decisionmakers to consider where mining and related activities fit into the region’s larger socioeconomic landscape and potential. Efforts to ameliorate the impacts of industry decline also need to fit into that landscape.
  • Combine locally or regionally driven policies with external assistance to improve outcomes. Regional actors understand a community’s needs but may lack the resources to respond to them.
  • Involve the wider community in planning the future. Coal miners are not the only ones with a stake in a region’s energy transition. It is important to hear the perspectives of other local businesses; municipalities; unions; civil society and environmental organizations; and above all, residents themselves.
  • Look beyond a “coal-to-green energy transition.” Non-energy-related economic sectors also have important roles to play in the energy transition. A region with a background in coal may be better suited for another industry than for scaling up green energy production.

The comprehensive report covers each of these points in more detail and provides information on how Poland’s transition fits into each of these recommendations.

“Every region’s energy transition will be different, and so there is no single roadmap to coal disinvestment that will be appropriate everywhere,” coauthor and RFF Senior Research Associate Wesley Look said. “Nonetheless, our Polish case study can hopefully provide insights for other regions undergoing energy transition, including here in the United States.”

For more, read the report, “Just Transition in Poland: A Review of Public Policies to Assist Polish Coal Communities in Transition,” by Aleksander Śniegocki, Marek Wasilewski, and Izabela Zygmunt of WiseEuropa, and Wesley Look of Resources for the Future. To learn more about the report in the authors' own words, read the associated Q&A with Śniegocki and Look.

For more on this project, visit the page on the RFF website.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.

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