The just transition – the decalogue of the CSR rules for cities

As a result of the launch of the Just Transition Mechanism by the European Commission, the energy transition has become one of the most acute topics of the last months. The talks concerning the partition of the financial resources are on the European, state, and regional level, but the expected results will apply equally to lower entities level – towns and communes of a state, which are connected with the local communities the most. 

In the light of these considerations, it is important to initiate the topic of the responsibility of the cities towards the approaching changes and ascertain the collection of the most important questions, concerning the strategic attitude and the planning of this process on the local level – the definition of the CSR rules for the socially responsible cities.

What is CSR?

For the narrowing semantic area translation of the English name, in Poland the term of corporate social responsibility – CSR is often being referred to only to the business sector. This allows assuming that the local communities and towns are only passive recipients of the companies' activities. In practice, a more precise term would be „corporative social responsibility” or „collective social responsibility”. Such designations mean the social responsibility of a certain group of people, incorporating to realize specific tasks, which remains open for all members of a community.

Meanwhile, the way of its definition depends on the accepted perspective. CSR referred to the tasks, serving the realization of public foals in the social or environmental area, concerns also local self-government, public sector entities, NGO sector, and also (actively and passively) whole local communities.

The crucial CSR questions, indicated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) are environmental management, eco-efficiency, responsible sourcing, stakeholder engagement, labor standards, and working conditions, employee and community relations, social equity, gender balance, human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption measures1.

The building of a CSR strategy is associated with the need of possessing a common system of values and the ability of their extraction, on which the realization of the strategy will be based. Among these values, the most often enumerated are responsiveness, cooperation, and partnership, engagement to the realization of accepted rules, charity and fairness, integrity, and displayed initiative in favor of the natural environment. On the distinguished values of certain collectivity, in the tight connection with the development strategy, the CSR policy and the programs and system of its implementation is habituated. The important aspects are honesty of intention, responsibility, and the long perspective of undertaken goals. The CSR strategy remains in connection with the resources, environment, and market, which is important also concerning the private sector, public dimension, and the local communities.

The common responsibility of administration, self-government, territory, or the socially responsible policy appears also recently in Polish public life and also in science. It refers mainly to the areas led by self-governments social policy – the most important tool of the CSR used in municipalities. Within its limits, the employments, housing, educational, health, cultural, family, public safety, preventive, and social security policies are considered. Meanwhile, the activity of self-government can include also: the mechanisms of entrepreneurship support, innovativeness, or the realized in cities policy for environmental and climate protection.

The just transition – the role of cities in the process

The just transition is a mechanism of support of the process of moving away from coal in the mining regions, which is an element of programming and financing of the green transition in the European Union. The mentioned process, whose purpose is a support for the mining regions, strives for achieving the most important goal of the European Green Deal which is the transition to the fully neutral for the climate, green and circular economy2. The just transition is to support the development of the regions and communities affected the most by the negative consequences of the changes connected to the low emission transformation3, the so-called coal regions. 

In Poland, the just transition is subject to programming on the state and regional level, nevertheless, both positive and negative consequences of the transformation will be felt directly on the local level – in cities, towns, and communes. We know the examples of Polish cities, which up till now, for 30 years of self-governance in the country, haven't regained their former brilliance after the transformation of the heavy industry from the 90' of the 20th century. For example, in Bytom or Wałbrzych some districts require revitalization in connection with poverty and social exclusion.

If according to the assumptions, the just transition is to prevent a similar situation, it should include all the most important actors and protect the weaker individuals. The analysis is being made of the transformation on the local level, for example, the changes on the local job market, the situation of the business units, the social situation in the municipality, or the economical situation of the inhabitants. The authorities of the city also possess certain tools, enabling the stimulation of the directional changes in the economy, for example ensuring the conditions for the creation of the new entities in the green branches. The range of the possible activity of self-government remains in the tight relation to CSR. In Poland supplying the common needs of a community remains with the commune, also thanks to the realization of the tasks in4: social assistance, public order and security, public education, environmental and nature protection, providing electricity, heating, and gas or animating citizens' activity. With a city of the rights of the country remains among others the tasks in public education at the secondary level in the technical professions, social assistance, preventing unemployment and activation on the job market or the protection of nature and environment. The inhabitants, through voting in local elections, give local authorities the mandate to decide on their matters.

The acts on commune and county self-government indirectly constitute the position of self-government in the process of the just transition. Depending on the attitude of the local authorities it can become an active participant influencing the shape of changes or a passive recipient of the disadvantageous, social, and economical consequences of these changes. For the local authorities will deal in the first place with the potential discontent of citizens and the loss of trust, the choice of the attitude towards the just transition should not cause doubts.

The areas of the interfusion of the CSR and the just transition on the city level

The areas of the just transition and the CSR are the same. The CSR strategies concern comprehensively the three spheres: economical, social, and environmental (podejście Triple Bottom Line approach)5, in other words, the areas, which the European Commission accepted as a foundation of reflection about the just transition. The same in the case of the CSR and the just transition is also the engagement of a community in the process of changes, which in the case of the energy transition includes the aspect of building of the civic society. Self-government is an institution that should accept in the social surrounding the attitude of an engaged and participating institution, regardless of the strategy of action which it will accept. If we refer the CSR concept to the public sector, it can be used with success to implement the just transition in cities.

The CSR rules for the cities covered by the just transition

The active attitude of the local authorities
Self-governments and local communities should be active participants of the just transition. In principle cities and the rest of communes will feel the effects of the changes taking place to the largest extent. The engagement of local authorities in the process of changes should be proportional to the dependency of the domestic economy on coal and fossil fuels. The changes often mean the appearance of winners and losers, the inertia vis-à-vis the process enlarges the probability of loss.
Dialoguing and engaging stakeholders
Inclusivity is one of the basic tasks which the European Commission puts for the member states. It arises from two causes. First, the dialogue with stakeholders should enable obtaining the high accuracy of the taken actions, thanks to the possibility of communicating needs by stakeholders. Second, the sense of being heard should influence positively the self-identification of community actors with realized actions and thereby bring forth their bigger inclination for cooperation and engagement. We should remember that the just transition is oriented towards different stakeholders.
The thorough diagnosis, high-class experts, and wide outlook 
Information has a special worth in a present economy. To head towards a goal, we should come to know the present state. The thorough diagnosis of this state and the connections in the economy and also their potential influence on the community and the environment is a basis to take accurate decisions outrunning the upcoming changes. The quality aspect of these elaborations is crucial, hence it is important so as experienced experts took part in them, who are familiar with the specificity of mining municipalities and communities. The complexity of the transition process brings on the necessity of the wider outlook on the socio-economic processes in cities and on their functional areas - hence the interdisciplinary expertise of the persons analyzing the process is crucial.
The long-, medium-, short-term and multi-branch planning 
The initiated process of moving away from coal and the total economy transition will last according to the assumptions till 2050. The definition of the goals suitable for the planning horizon and referring to the policies introduced in cities: social, economic, or environmental, will guarantee the movement towards the right direction. The plans focused on common values and actions should not be dependent on the political situation. 
The clear action strategy 
The structured form of the action strategy simplifies the reception and lifts the readability of intentions. A clear plan means relying on the thinking crucial for the municipality development, the logical character of the formulated: visions, strategic goals, action directions, tasks, and also the definition of the system of monitoring the progress of its realization. Additionally, it means the same form of their presentation – the communication through The summary of the most important elements, directing of the selected contents to different groups of participants of the process, and the transmission through different channels.
The flexible structures, the dynamic reaction
The flexible and comparatively flat structures of management enable fast reactions in situations of crisis. They are also closer to the models of management used in the private sector, because of which they determine the approachability in the communication with a state office. Shortening and simplification of the decision path favor also increase citizens' trust in an institution.
The Cooperation, communicating, and the leaders' quality 
The cooperation of city authorities with local actors including representatives of social organizations of the functional dimension contributes to increasing trust and usage of the inner potential, including the potential of the local leaders. The acquired knowledge is a crucial element of territorial marketing. The structures of communicating will determine the efficiency of management of the process of changes.
The equality and the concern about others 
This rule emerges in noticing problems of different groups, including especially people of a weaker position on the job market. It concerns mainly young persons, planning their professional life or considering reskilling. The process of the just transition to the smaller or larger extent will affect every inhabitant, however, some groups of citizens are especially vulnerable to becoming impoverished on grounds of potential disadvantageous effects of this process. In this case, it concerns especially people of lower professional flexibility and their families which are based on the traditional model, where only one person is employed. Additionally, vulnerable groups can turn out to be young persons without professional experience or women because of greater exposition to loss of job in the situation of the unemployment increase. To these groups, separate tools of support should be directed.
The optimization of decisions, the exclusion of uncertainty, and the high standards of sufficiency 
The just transition is a complex process in which the diverse goals of high importance (strategical goals) have been set vis-à-vis numerous limitations including financial ones. This problem requires defining and taking optimal decisions, the best choices among available solutions. The foundation of taking such decisions is fulfillment of the compilation of goals set for authorities, obtaining satisfactory for the widest group of recipients effects (for the realization of the community goals), in the conditions of numerous limitations, which can (but don't have to) occur. The high standards of sufficiency mean making the best choices, giving possibly the best and assured outcomes. On account of the importance of influences of this process and their long-term character, it is necessary to limit the uncertainty.
The mechanisms of control: the evaluation of the strategy and the evolution of the tools of support.
The monitoring and the assessment – the evaluation of the process is necessary for enabling the correction of the chosen path and increase of adjusting of the activities and tools of achieving goals to the conditions determined by the changeable outer and inner surrounding.

Author: Klaudia Plac, Krajowy Ośrodek Zmian Klimatu IOŚ-PIB

1 (dostęp: 04.02.2021 r.)
2 (dostęp: 05.02.2021 r.)
3Polityka Energetyczna Polski do 2040 r. Streszczenie, Ministerstwo Klimatu i Środowiska
4Ustawa z dnia 8 marca 1990 r. o samorządzie gminnym [Dz. U. 1990 Nr 16 poz. 95]
5 (dostęp: 05.02.2021 r.)