You will have new roads, but nobody to drive on them.

Meet Piotr Czerniejewski, a Polish Youth and Climate Activist who is actively involved in the Just Transition process of his local area and has been promoting the inclusion of young people.

The roots of Piotr’s activism

Piotr Czerniejewski is from the city of Konin, which is located in an area in the centre-west of Poland. He began his activism in 2015, when he was elected to the municipal youth council. After completing his work in the municipal youth council four years later, the party “Wiosna” was founded, which he joined, in addition to the youth party “Przedwiośnie”. He also joined the Youth Climate Strike.

“In 2019 I became involved in the Just Transition process. I began attending meetings in my hometown as a representative of the youth climate strike. I started paying attention to the issues of young people. The main thing that was talked about at these meetings was the needs of miners, energy issues and infrastructure issues. The aspect of youth was neglected. Basically, with my presence, decision-makers have come to understand that the needs of young people need to be included in Just Transition plans.”

Piotr has organized numerous campaigns, both within the city youth council and more broadly as an activist. These included talent contests and climate lessons in Konin schools, as well as local cleanups. In 2021, he founded the association “Młodzi Lokalsi” (Young Locals), because there was no organisation that could bring together all the young people who actually wanted to do something from Konin and the surrounding area. The organisation has been active since August 2021. At the moment, it has 25 members, and as Piotr says, it may not be a very large number, but for the rather small city of Konin, this really is a lot of people.

“We have given lessons about the climate in schools, we organize youth concerts. There is such a problem that a lot of young people leave the city because there are no events aimed at them. We did concerts as well as charity events. We collected gifts for children from an orphanage for Christmas. We will be giving lessons on climate and also an Oxford debate tournament for schools in the autumn. As an association, we do different types of activities from educational to more entertaining and cultural. Anyone can come with their idea and do actions for whatever they feel like.”

Being a young activist, however, comes with many obstacles. Among them is the resistance of all decision-makers that Piotr has experienced first-hand from the onset of his activism.

“I’ve been talking about exactly the same thing for seven years now, I’ve been talking about concrete solutions that should be implemented in the region so that young people don’t leave our city. If someone listens to my speeches, I keep repeating myself, but I have to repeat myself, because the same issues have to be addressed all the time.”

Another obstacle is the disagreement of people with his work and activism, although Piotr told us that he learned how not to take negative comments to heart and instead focus on the more positive ones.

“When I see articles in the local media, like after the climate strike there are comments like: Well, you’re probably charging your phone on electricity, which is from coal and so on – I’ve just learned not to worry about those comments. I enjoy the fact that there are people who wish me well and write good comments.”

Money, naturally, is also an obstacle. There is not enough support for Piotr’s activities, because municipal grants are launched at the beginning of a year and one has to apply at the beginning of the year, because after that the money is gone. There is also no funding for climate lessons in schools. Hence, Piotr does all of his work related to these things without any funding at all.

The Just Transition in mining regions in Poland

When Piotr began his activism, the needs of young people were not taken care of and at an early meeting in 2019 of stakeholder groups, miners and local government officials, Piotr was the only young person who showed up.

“I was listening to these solutions, what they are proposing and there were only solutions related to energy and infrastructure. There were no social ones, let alone youth ones. I stood up at the meeting and said through the microphone: you’re going to have new roads on which there will be no one to drive, because everyone will leave.”

That was a sentence that shocked the people in this room. Since then, Piotr has often repeated those words, because they sum up the direction in which the region will develop if things do not change. After said meeting, there were a lot of working group meetings related to the Just Transition process, and there Piotr tried to talk about investments in people rather than infrastructure. So far, there have been four working groups: a working group on social issues, the environment, infrastructure, and energy. Piotr came up with the idea that there should be a youth group to focus more on developing demands, because once again he found himself as the only young person in the room and, as he points out, he is not omniscient and could not speak on behalf of all young people about what they really think is best. The body that is leading this process, the Regional Development Agency, agreed to set up such a working group.

“We got together a group of people from schools and from the local university for a workshop that was held in October 2020 and at that workshop we came up with 23 ideas for youth solutions that we felt should be in a Just Transition. Then there was a moment where there was a consultation of this plan and we tried to push as many solutions as possible into this plan. In fact, some of it was successful. We managed to work out the support of young people into the labour market, the issues of additional education classes. Not all of it that we wanted, but at least some of it.”

The group was also successful in introducing solutions that are not strictly youth-oriented, but also affect young people, such as the development of public transport. It is mainly young people who commute to school or to work by bus. There were also quite a few solutions that this group cared about that were not youth-oriented at all, and in fact, most of them were implemented. They brought up the issue of business incubation, or the issue of water restoration, or reclamation of post-mining areas. Furthermore, a solution related to financing youth initiatives, i.e., a kind of youth grant, has also successfully been passed.

“Our role now is to ensure that the solutions that were important to us and were not included should be implemented in other fields, on other programmes. We need to pay attention to how they will be implemented and when they will be implemented, whether it will be what we thought, or whether again the decision-makers will say that they will implement it in their way, which will be a completely different way, and then monitoring if these solutions are implemented. Monitoring whether the solutions are actually delivering the results we have identified, or whether something more is needed.”

There are many challenges ahead for Piotr with this action plan. First and foremost, he wants to develop his association so that it can raise more funds for its activities. He also certainly wants to focus on informing the locals about what is happening in the region. The reason for this is that a lot of people, including young people, don’t know what a Just Transition is, where the region is going and what direction it’s all going in.

And although it involves effort, Piotr stresses: “I just like what I do and nobody really pays me for the things I do. For activism or political action. If someone is doing something they don’t enjoy, then they might put it off. And I’m motivated to pin things down until the end.”

Do you want to help Piotr and other activists in the Just Transition regions?

Spread the word about the EUTeens4Green project that offers up to €10 000 for local youth-led projects!