Objectives and challenges

The European Union (EU) aims at achieving 32% of energy consumption from RES by 2030. Europe’s energy transition is a challenge requiring a realistic energy policy and appropriate investment tools, especially if the twin goals of sustained and inclusive employment are to be met.

The transition to a new national energy model and the implications that this will have on the lignite based economy of the Region of Western Macedonia, Greece (and by extension, the Regional Unit of Florina), has been acknowledged and anticipated for years. As is well known, the Region supplies electricity mostly generated from locally mined lignite to the Greek interconnected system since 1960, acting for several decades as energy pillar for Greek economic growth. However, this one-dimensionality of the Region’s economic model has left Western Macedonia extremely vulnerable to any decline of its lignite based electricity sector. The recently published National Strategy for Adaptation Measures to Climate Change (2019) has put the Region firmly on the post-lignite path.

The electric power production system in North Macedonia is very similar to that currently found in the Region of Western Macedonia, as its lignite burning thermal power plants produce 70 % of the country’s electricity. As the Republic of North Macedonia has been on accession negotiations for becoming a member of the EU since 2009, the need to move towards a green energy system will become urgent in the near future.

The project “Stimulating Green Employment: Across Border Educational and Technological Innovation Hot – Spots / G.EM.S.”, aims to help the participating regions move away from their current ‘brown-based’ low economic approach (low job quality, low environmental protection, low skills), towards a ‘high’ green-based sustainable economy (high skills, high productivity, high environmental protection).The project, using innovative education/training methods, will be based on subject and procedural knowledge in order to improve local populations relationship with nature, familiarize them with the Sustainable Development Goals, as defined by the United Nations in 2015, in their local expressions and dimensions, and develop human capital in the cross border region in state-of-the art energy and energy applications.

A great challenge arises for the knowledge / research community on how to meet local population’s needs. Under a holistic approach, the partners of GEMS will unite their complementary know-how in a well-organised and demanding project. The University of Western Macedonia (UOWM, Partner 1) will act as Lead Partner. It comprises of 7 Faculties and 23 Departments located in the five main cities of the Region of Western Macedonia and is an internationally research oriented university with highly qualified academic staff, extensive international links and vast experience in managing projects (International, National and European). The Centre for Research & Technology Hellas / Chemical Process & Energy Resources Institute (CERTH / CPERI, Partner 2) is one of the leading research centres in Greece and listed among the TOP-20 EU research institutions with the highest participation in competitive research grants. Business Academy Smilevski (BAS Academy, Partner 3) is a higher education institution with an accredited program of professional studies in business and strategic management, which has implemented a number of projects financed by USAID for Organizational Capacity Building and projects financed by World Bank for Development of Competencies of Teachers and Students in Vocational High Schools aimed at more efficient employment in the business sector in the period from 2013 to 2019. The Economic Chamber of North Macedonia – Regional Chamber Bitola (RCB, Partner 4) is part of the Economic Chamber of the country which is the largest and oldest association of companies from R.N.M. With the experts of the member firms and in cooperation with the academic institutions, so far have been implemented a number of application projects to improve the performance of the member firms.

The suggested project will be best implemented under the IPA INTERREG CBC programme which gives the opportunity for a smooth cooperation and exchange of knowledge and experiences between Greece and R.N.M., in order to tackle two main challenges, i.e., employment changes and skill requirements. Meeting common needs and exploiting comparative advantages of the cross-border area, the proposed project will act as a vehicle for a smooth and just transition to the post-lignite period that both countries will have to face within the next years.

Moreover, ensuring the sustainability, durability and transferability of the main outputs delivered by GEMS, the training courses developed by the project, will be run by the Centre for Lifelong Learning (ΚΕ.ΔΙ.ΒΙ.Μ., https://kedivim.UOWM.gr/) of UOWM for a period of at least three (3) years.

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