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Local Elections in Poland: Climate and Energy Take Center Stage

ENERGYLocal Elections in Poland: Climate and Energy Take Center Stage

For several months now, farmer protests have inevitably led to the European Green Deal and other climate and energy issues dominating the campaign before the local elections. A new report from the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation suggests that these issues might also dominate the work of local governments after the elections. The new authorities will need to accelerate planning and implementation of transformation in energy and environmental protection. According to residents’ expectations, this should include, among others, investments in local renewable energy sources (RES) and green transport. Experts point out that many factors, such as access to European funds, now favor the realization of these tasks, but without facilitation from the government, it will not be possible.

“Climate issues were very important in the election campaign. This was mainly caused by farmer protests against the European Green Deal, but not only. In Krakow and Warsaw, ecological non-governmental organizations organized their debates for mayoral or council candidates, and there were also other campaigns encouraging questions about ‘green’ postulates,” says Dr. Wojciech Szymalski, president of the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation to the Newseria Biznes news agency.

The necessity to achieve EU climate goals and energy transformation will not bypass local governments in Poland either. The most challenging tasks related to this process include the electrification of transport, accelerating the pace of energy renovation of buildings, moving away from fossil fuels, and increasing resilience to climate change. Apart from EU regulations, the pressure on local governments is additionally increased by the growing expectations of residents and market conditions.

“I can say with all responsibility that climate issues are an important topic, although at this moment they compete for attention with the military threat posed by Russia’s actions. And both issues are interconnected. We had to give up cheap fossil fuels imported from Russia, which caused a price increase not only of energy but of all products and undermined trust in pro-climatic actions that aim to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. This is an incorrect association because it is precisely thanks to renewable energy sources, which replace fossil fuels, that we have access to the cheapest energy on the European market,” emphasizes the president of the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation.

The energy crisis that erupted after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine has been and still is particularly severe for the budgets of local governments. Today, the purchase of imported energy raw materials to Poland costs twice as much as it did three years ago. Many local governments had to look for savings or cut expenditures on investments in other areas.

“Therefore, I think that newly elected local government authorities will quickly start planning energy transformation. Unfortunately, the conditions for this were not there before – the energy crisis forced the implementation of immediate actions, and the state authorities’ actions did not clearly show which direction the whole country should take and, moreover, blocked many solutions that were available for local governments in the energy sector, e.g., investing in wind farms. Many local governments, therefore, could only dream of energy transformation. After these elections, it will be possible to start realizing these dreams,” says Dr. Wojciech Szymalski.

In his opinion, now is the most favorable moment for such acceleration. This is due to many factors, including financing development from European sources, renewing relations between local governments and the government after parliamentary elections, social support and trust, and cooperation with business and organizations.

According to the report by the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation “Energy and climate. Challenges before the new term of local governments in Poland,” local government authorities elected in the 2024 local elections have a lot of work to do to adapt planning in energy and climate to current expectations related to climate policy. Today, not all municipalities have planning documents, even if they are required by law. The most common document is the study of conditions and directions of spatial development of the municipality, which is owned by 98% of local governments. The second place is taken by the environmental protection program, owned by over 80% of local governments. Both of these documents are mandatory and cover a significant range of topics related to energy and climate. In the case of non-mandatory strategies, the percentage of local governments is much lower. For example, only 49% of municipalities have environmental protection programs adopted after 2020, so those that can be considered fully current, and every third one has current low-emission economy plans.

“Today, we have a very large number of various plans, from which little results. It would be useful to have one, but a good study and more funds, time, and opportunities for real action,” emphasizes the president of the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation. “I hope that the government will simplify this implementation, among others, by organizing the situation in terms of energy and climate planning at the local level.”

However, expectations from the government are much higher. Experts from the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation and other organizations recommend, among others, increasing the possibilities for municipalities to produce and sell electricity, which should become one of their own tasks, the ability to plan, build and manage low-voltage energy networks, and creating and managing

energy communities on a wider scale than before. Other postulates include increased investment by municipalities in renewable energy sources, also through energy communities. Each time, the condition for transferring such competencies to local governments should be the provision of additional funds for this purpose or the creation of mechanisms ensuring their self-financing.

According to experts, local governments should actively involve residents in the transformation process and cooperate more with local stakeholders in climate policy, including business and non-governmental organizations.

“Today, cooperation with business can be directed towards energy transformation because business is currently looking for opportunities for cheap and ecological energy supply for their plants – and such possibilities are provided by high local production of energy from renewable sources. Similarly, local governments are looking for cheaper energy and can achieve this goal by engaging business to invest in renewable energy sources on their behalf. Thus, this cooperation can be mutual,” explains the expert.

Greater investments in local renewable energy sources are one of the residents’ expectations. For local governments, this is an opportunity not only for cheaper energy and improved climate protection but also for strengthening energy security. Residents also have high expectations for urban greenery and public transport, its cleanliness, and accessibility.

“I hope that we will also soon act towards more rational use of water in and out of cities. It is not good when, dealing with periodic excess water, we pour it thoughtlessly into rivers and seas, and as a result, we struggle with drought in the next period. Rainwater should irrigate the soil in greater quantities, which will be beneficial for agriculture, rather than directly feeding rivers, where its excess causes floods,” adds Dr. Wojciech Szymalski.

Access to European funds for green investments in local governments is an opportunity to stimulate such investments. According to calculations by the Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation, in the coming years, more than 20 billion euros will go to energy transformation and climate and environmental protection, of which 15 billion could support local budgets. For example, local governments will be able to use nearly 4.7 billion euros from this pool for adaptation to climate change and 3.4 billion for urban transport. Other significant investment areas include water management (1.7 billion euros), district heating (1.3 billion), and renewable energy sources (1.25 billion).

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