Just Transition and Youth: Challenges and Opportunities

Intended to promote the active participation of young people of the Region of Western Macedonia in the energy transition of the region, and to strengthen their contribution to the transformation of the local economy and society, the Non-Profit Organization Active Youth Group of Florina (OENEF) organized the 1st Youth Conference – Forum of the Region of Western Macedonia on the topic “Youth in the Regions of Europe – Post-Lignite Era and Development – Dialogue, Innovation and Actions” in Florina. The Green Tank participated in the conference with the keynote speech “Just Transition and Youth: Challenges and Opportunities”.

The keynote speech was delivered by Nikos Mantzaris, Senior Policy Analyst, Othon Kaminiaris, Policy Researcher, and Ioanna Theodosiou, Policy Associate, bringing to the fore the following topics:

Why are we talking about Transition in lignite regions?

What is the current status of youth in Western Macedonia?

What policy tools are available for young people in lignite regions?

Which are the funding opportunities?

How can youth’s participation in the Just Transition be strengthened?

In the first part of the keynote speech, Nikos Mantzaris, initially highlighted the causes, characteristics and impacts of climate change, and gave the broader context of the existing European policy on the climate crisis and the transition to sustainable energy sources. He referred to the climate targets for achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. These targets are set by the European Green Deal, the European Climate Law, as well as the recent Greek National Climate Law. Then, stressing the social and economic implications of the energy transition for the country’s lignite regions, he briefly presented the EU’s Just Transition policy tools, and in particular the Just Transition Mechanism (Just Transition Fund – Invest EU – EIB), and the key points of the Just Transition Development Plan for the lignite regions of Greece.

In the second part of the keynote speech, Othon Kaminiaris focused on the role of youth in the Just Transition and in particular in the case of Western Macedonia. Drawing from the recent Green Tank report, he presented briefly the latest data on the demographic and social characteristics of young people in Western Macedonia based on ELSTAT and Eurostat. Among them, he highlighted that lignite remains the economic sector with the highest Gross Value Added (GVA) in the Region of Western Macedonia, despite the decrease in electricity production from lignite, which significantly affects the employment opportunities for young people. He then pointed out that the region of Western Macedonia has ranked high in youth unemployment and youth population decrease (aged 15-29), compared to the average of the 96 EU coal regions. Finally, he underlined that, according to the NEET indicator (Not in Employment, Education or Training), up to 1/3 of young people aged 15-24 have in fact been socially excluded, being out of work or not in some kind of educational process between 2004 and 2021, although this percentage is decreasing over time. Against this background, he summarised the European and National Youth Strategies aimed at promoting young people’s participation in the democratic life by strengthening their representation and inclusion in institutions and decision-making processes. Referring to the European Commission’s toolkit on Youth Participation in the Just Transition, he singled out the need to involve young people at all stages of the process and to include all categories of young people.

In the third part of the keynote speech, Ioanna Theodosiou presented the EU funding tools for young people in lignite regions and data on youth participation in the Just Transition from Europe and Greece. Specifically, she referred to the Special Transition Programme for the Just Transition (2020-2023) and the NSRF-DAM Programme (2021-2027) as well as more broadly to the funding opportunities of the new programming period. She also stressed that according to a GCE- CEE Bankwatch study, youth participation in transition planning appears to be limited. In this context, she gave some good examples from Ireland and Slovakia that could be a source of inspiration, and then presented data on the youth of Western Macedonia, showing the lack of information and participation in shaping a comprehensive transition plan. Finally, she presented the main characteristics, problems and point to be improved in the Just Transition Governance Mechanism in Greece.

The keynote speech concluded with policy recommendations to the authorities and young people, inter alia:

  • Establishment of an institutional role for young people in the Transition’s governance mechanism.
  • Creation of a special Just Transition Fund for Youth drawing on the available European and national resources.
  • Incorporation of youth drain retention as an indicator for the success of the Just Transition Programme.
  • Set up of a platform for promoting dialogue and awareness among the youth.
  • Establishment of a Youth Council for Just Transition.

The conference was held on October, 7-9 2022. The keynote speech was delivered on the 1st day of the Conference, and it was moderated by Konstantinos Stergiou, Head of Europe Direct Western Macedonia.

The keynote speech was preceded by an Opening Ceremony with greetings and opening statements by:

Nikos Papathanasis, Greek Alternate Minister of Development and Investments

Giannis Antoniadis, MP elected in Florina / New Democracy

Peti Perka, MP elected in Florina / SYRIZA

Sotiris Vosdou, Vice Regional Governor of Florina

Panagiotis Notas, President of the Municipal Council of Florina

Ioannis Mpoukis, CEO Metavasi SA

and a Round Table titled “Just Transition, Policies and Youth”, with the participation of:

Stathis Stathopoulos, Board Director, Green Fund

Giannis Antoniadis, MP elected in Florina / New Democracy

Peti Perka, MP elected in Florina / SYRIZA

Nasos Sofos, Programme Manager, European Commission, DG Regional and Urban Policy

Stergios Kianas, Vice Regional Governor of Western Macedonia on Digital Transition and E-government

Theodoros Thedoulidis, Rector, University of Western Macedonia

Kostas Filippidis, President, Active Youth Group of Florina (OENEF)

The Round Table was moderated by G. Lotsopoulou, Journalist, ERT3

These were followed by a session on “Just Transition in Europe – Youth’s participation in Transition Regions” with the participation of:

Milka Miroslawa Stepien, CEE Bankwatch

Lorenzo Manca, Climate Justice Coordinator

Piotr Czerniejewski, The Young Locals Association, Poland

The full conference programme is available at the website of the Active Youth Group of Florina (OENEF).

In light of The Green Tank’s recent report, titled “The Role of Youth in the Just Transition: The case of Western Macedonia” and in view of the conference, Nikos Mantzaris gave an interview to Flash TV Western Macedonia where he presented the findings of the report and the opportunities for young people in Western Macedonia. The interview is available on our YouTube channel (in Greek).