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Climate Commission: What needs to be done to give immediate effect to South Africa’s just transition

Illustrative image // Gouda Wind Farm. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard). The Sishen solar park, operated by Acciona SA, in Kathu, Northern Cape. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images). The Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Presidential Climate Commission has published its Just Transition Framework and called for public comment on the document. It lays out the actions that the government and its social partners should take to achieve a just transition in South Africa. Here’s what you should know.

At the end of February, the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) published its draft Framework for a Just Transition in South Africa – “the first building block towards reaching South Africa’s vision for a just and equitable transition towards climate resilience and zero-emissions development”.

The framework does not deal with climate mitigation and adaptation policies per se, “but rather with managing the social consequences and economic upside of those policies, while putting human development concerns at the centre of decision-making”.

The importance of a well-managed and rapid transition from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas-intensive economies was made abundantly clear in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report.

That report, described as an “atlas of human suffering” by the United Nations secretary-general, said definitively that climate change is a “threat to human wellbeing and planetary health” and that “humanity is on the brink of missing a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.

Rapidly reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is an increasingly urgent and necessary task if humanity is to limit an increase in the average global temperature to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond 1.5°C is considered “dangerous climate change”.

The simplest way to reduce emissions in the immediate future is to drastically curtail the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.  

This, however, is no small task in South Africa, where the century-old overwhelming dependence on coal for power generation has inextricably linked the commodity to the livelihoods of large parts of Mpumalanga in particular. South Africa is also one of the most climate-vulnerable nations in the world, with a limited capacity to adapt to current climate challenges which will almost certainly grow in future.

Getting buy-in from the people most at risk in SA’s just transition to low-carbon energy – the workers

Read together, South Africa is threatened by both the impacts of climate change and the socioeconomic effects of an unmanaged transition to a low- and zero-emissions society. It is with this in mind that the PCC has spent the years since its formation developing a framework for a just transition

The framework “sets out the vision, principles, planning elements and policy measures to achieve a just transition in South Africa” and identifies a number of policy measures and actions that can be taken immediately to give effect to such a transition. These short-term actions and policy measures are outlined below.

To shift to cleaner and more competitive generation technologies, the framework says South African authorities need to review the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) “to ensure it will achieve national goals for reducing emissions by 2030, aligned with South Africa’s fair share and a safe climate”, and “finalise proposals for renewable energy sources to meet energy demand”.

Regarding coal mining and coal-fired power stations continuing to downsize and retire, the PCC framework says a short-term action would be to find an “agreement between stakeholders on (a) the success indicators for the just transition in the coal value chain, (b) phasing of the just transition in coal (when will downsizing start? what preparations are needed before then?), and (c) core strategies to achieve the success indicators”.

On the shift to cleaner energy for transport, in the short term the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) needs to be “adjusted to support production of clean-energy vehicles and to promote local production of batteries and fast-charging technologies”, and there needs to be “agreement on an agency, government structures and stakeholder forums to drive the just transition in transport, with role clarity and capacity to develop viable proposals to support affected workers and small businesses”. 

Cognisant of the reality that coal miners won’t be the only group affected by the transition, the framework says immediate actions that should be taken include the “identification of priority sectors for reducing emissions outside of coal and petrochemicals, and on that basis identification of timelines for reducing emissions”. 

The just transition will require “substantial investment in new technologies and industrial clusters to generate alternative livelihoods”, while required short-term decisions and actions include compiling “initial estimates of the extent and nature of financing needed for just transition investments, and implications for financial-sector products and regulatory framework”.

The draft Just Transition Framework is out for public comment. Interested parties may send comments in writing to the PCC Secretariat at [email protected] before 31 March 2022. OBP/DM

 

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