The two-day conference in Piła (7 and 8 December 2023) was the outcome of two years of “Local Development” Programme work. Many cities and towns took on Programme-related responsibilities, a development highlighted during the meeting in Piła by representatives of the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy and the Norwegian partner alike, the latter the majority funding donor of aforesaid activities.
“It is by no chance that an energy transformation conference is organised at this time. Local governments have been quite liberal in their approach to energy-related matters so far. Yet some cities and towns have noted a need for energy transformation,” said Strategic Advisor Zdzisław Czucha at the conference. “As a European Union member state, we are facing major and crystal-clear challenges, Paris Agreement to the European ‘Green Deal’ strategy: we are to become climate neutral by 2050, after all. We believe that there are no challenges more important than energy these days. Yet under Polish conditions, energy ties in with caring for the environment.”
Energy is the world’s buzzword these days: everyone knows we have to abandon traditional sources, and focus on Renewable Energy Sources. Over one-half of the global population inhabit cities and towns accountable for three-quarters of all emissions. Combatting climate change affects urban population and the condition of the planet in equal measure.
The meeting was held in Piła, a city aspiring to the position of an urban energy transition leader with a particular focus on hydrogen use. Pursuant to its Development Strategy, Piła is focusing on the use of Renewable Energy Sources, and on activities designed to protect the natural environment and clean air.
“We are all in agreement that the world is facing extraordinary challenges tying in with the climate, migration, and biodiversity,” said Aleksandra Wacko, Norway Grants Counsellor at the Royal Norwegian Embassy, during the conference. “Nobody should be forced to face them alone. It is hugely important for us to exchange experience, learn from one another, and work closely together. This is why Norway Grants have been concentrating on fostering bilateral co-operation by promoting such activities as the ‘Local Development’ Programme, an endeavour designed to build capacity and partnership allowing urban municipalities to develop in line with the sustainable development principle.”
The representative of the Kingdom of Norway notified attendants of the Piła conference that in early December, the European Union and Norway agreed upon a new Norway Grants funding period. This means that a further EUR 3.2 billion will be made available over the upcoming seven years. “We will be supporting democracy, resilience, inclusion and green transformation during the upcoming funding mechanism period,” Aleksandra Wacko said.
Maciej Aulak of the Department of Assistance Programmes at the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy used the meeting as an opportunity to thank cities and towns for their work in the programme. While all activities and project outcomes will be summarised in 2024, the Piła conference was of huge importance for reasons of its pivotal theme: energy transition in Polish cities and towns. Since green transformation will become even more significant during the upcoming financial perspective of Norway Grant-based project funding, it is enormously important for cities and towns to prepare for the new period well, director Aulak emphasised. “Experience exchange among cities and towns who have reached the project implementation stage is of key importance,” said the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy representative while reminding all attendants that urban municipalities are already eligible for funding from multiple external sources, including European Union monies under the newly opening perspective, the application process about to begin; furthermore, the Ministry will announce a new application procedure in the first quarter of 2024, open to cities and towns interested in joining a Swiss Grants-funded programme (Polish-Swiss Urban Development Programme).
Conference participants were introduced i.a. to mechanisms of funding energy transition projects, as well as municipality-targeted use of green energy in Norway and hydrogen in Germany. Representatives of Polish cities and towns spoke of hydrogen-heated housing estates (Piła, Śrem), a comprehensive approach to energy transformation (Oława, Konin), state-of-the-art urban public transport solutions (Rybnik, Konin), and smart street lighting systems (Piła). Executive Director of the Association of Polish Cities Office Andrzej Porawski referenced new opportunities offered by the Energy Law which allows the forming of civic energy communities.
The “Energy Transition – Use of Green Energy in Modern Cities. SMART CITY Technologies as an Energy Management Tool” international conference agenda included a Local Development Forum session held in Piła on 7 December 2023.