BYTOM, Poland (Reuters) – As a teenager, Mariusz Wolosz was a promising boxer in Bytom in southern Poland, where his club was funded by one of the city’s many coal mines.
When the mines began closing in the 1990s, however, so did the club, halting Wolosz’s boxing career and condemning his once-bustling hometown to decades of poverty and decline.
Today, as Bytom’s mayor, Wolosz is fighting again, this time for a share of a new European Union fund designed to shift coal-dependent regions towards a greener economy.
Poland is likely to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the EU’s 100 billion-euro ($111.2 billion) Just Transition Fund, which Wolosz hopes will kickstart Bytom’s moribund economy and attract new investors after decades of neglect. “We have set our sights on the EU funds,” Wolosz told Reuters. “Bytom is worth saving.”
Transforming forgotten places like Bytom is a crucial test for the EU in a landmark year for climate diplomacy. Alone among EU nations, Poland didn’t sign up to the 2050 zero-emission goals, and the Just Transition Fund plays a key role in getting them on board.