I see four aspects to a just transition for South Africa and the globe.
First, it must provide justice for all those who work and have worked in the coal and fossil fuel industries. We have to cater for their wellbeing and their future.
Second, it needs to provide affordable energy for all the people of South Africa — not only for industry and those living in cities. How do we do this for rural communities of South Africa and Africa?
A just energy transition would bring decentralised renewable energy to rural communities in a way that centralised, grid-supplied electricity cannot.
Doing the right thing by rolling out renewables through household, local and regional grids, would provide less costly and more reliable energy, would be less damaging to the planet, and would help overcome the gross inequalities in our country.
Third, a just energy transition must be underpinned by justice for the planet.
It must be ecologically sound so that we live in harmony with nature. This is generally glossed over or disregarded by most governments of the world.
Finally, our governments must make ethical decisions in which justice is foundational. We must do what is right for people and planet.
Sadly, our contemporary world has strayed far from this principle. Economic interests and priorities have supplanted ethics. This is where faith communities can be involved.
Sacred texts say, “You can’t serve God and mammon — wealth”. We have made the acquisition of wealth our god and the goal in life.
This does not mean efficiency or profit is not important. It certainly is, but what do we use our wealth for? What do we invest in? What is our motivation? What is our goal in life? Is it just to make as much money as possible or is it to enhance human and planetary wellbeing?
Energy, transport and land use
There are three critical areas of practical concern: Energy, transport and land use.
Our insatiable thirst for energy is hugely responsible for the disastrous state of our beautiful planet. This is serious, as Earth is our only home. We must have a transition that upholds justice to people and the planet.
This can be done with renewable energy.
We are told we must have oil or coal to grow the economy and overcome unemployment and inequality. But machines do people out of jobs. Our greatest wasted asset is the human capacity to do good and constructive and fulfilling work.
Electric vehicles are much more efficient than fossil-fuelled ones. We need to transition to electric vehicles as a matter of urgency. Drop the import tariff on them, and encourage and promote pedal power by providing safe cycle lanes.
Forests are the lungs of the Earth. Yet there is horrendous destruction of forests around the world, primarily to grow crops used to feed animals for human consumption. Globally, we must protect our forests.
The Amazon and Congo basin rainforests do not only belong to Brazil and the Congo. They are the world’s. Their destruction affects the global climate.
Corporate agribusiness and factory farming is expanding across the world. It concentrates wealth in the hands of the capitalist owners and is devastating our planet. It is energy intensive and supremely unethical in the way it treats not only farmed animals, but biodiversity in general, and the health of our soils.
The use of chemicals and large quantities of water is destroying the very soil we depend on for our food, and it seriously furthers global warming.
The African People’s Climate Justice Declaration has called for a just energy transition that would “recognise and support agroecology and other sustainable food production and distribution models grounded on food sovereignty as alternatives to the industrialised food system”.
In his recent book, Sixty Harvests Left, Philip Lymbery cites research showing that a fifth of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions could be offset if half the world’s cropland took a regenerative approach.
This reintegrates farm animals in a way that fertilises the soil naturally, looking after the microbes and other biodiversity underground while helping them to take carbon out of the atmosphere.
In other words, farming “God’s Way”, with nature, saving water, reducing fertilisers and pesticides, farming organically and showing compassion to animals.
Lymbery claims that South Africa hosts the biggest feed-lot cattle farm in the world — 160,000 head of cattle, crowded together to be fattened for the market in China with not a blade of grass or shade for shelter.
This is not the way God wants us to farm. It is a desecration of God’s purpose. We will pay the price because we are being so destructive in our pursuit of profit.
We are destroying our own life support systems.
It is also well documented that we are overfishing and depleting stocks, yet we continue, threatening the survival of many species.
Climate change is now a lived reality. It is already causing devastation around the globe. Currently, four countries in the Horn of Africa are suffering from a fifth year of drought, threatening the survival of 18 million people, while 90% of Nigeria is flooded, as is Pakistan.
We hear daily of horrendous wildfires, floods and storms around the world. Hurricane Ian was the most ferocious ever experienced in the US. In southern Africa, we have not escaped, with drought and alarming floods in KZN and two devastating typhoons in Mozambique.
All this has happened with average global temperatures having increased by 1.1°C. The COP talks have said that we must try to keep temperature increase to within 1.5°C or 2°C.
The IPCC predicts that Africa will experience twice the global average temperature increase. Can you imagine temperatures of 4°C to 5°C hotter than what we already live with? It will make the Western Cape look like Namibia. Yet there are still people who deny the reality of climate change!
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Fossil fuel companies are still pursuing carbon-emitting fuel.
We know that renewable energy is cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuels. Wind and sun energy cost nothing — it is blowing in the wind or shining on us daily — but billions are still being invested in fossil fuel, off our coast and in the Kavango, because money — big money — can be made.
Ordinary people like coastal small-scale fishers’ livelihoods are at risk from greedy oil companies who continue to ignore climate change in pursuit of profits.
The French oil company Total is seeking permits to drill off the West Coast and off Mossel Bay. They disregard the environmental impact. Total is an enormous company. It does not need more oil profits. Now is the time for Total to leave fossils behind and invest in renewable programmes.
Likewise, Shell has made massive profits in the Niger Delta and its windfall profits come with enormous human suffering and environmental costs. They need to examine their motives and change direction.
Why is the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources wooing the Karpowerships? Could we be more irresponsible and greedy, locking ourselves into them for 20 years? We have alternatives now!
Our wellbeing is totally dependent on the wellbeing of the planet. Do it the right way, God’s way, for our survival and for that of the life of the planet.
Just energy transition
So what needs to happen? The just energy transition must translate into urgent action.
We have to act now.
South Africa’s Parliament has yet to pass the Climate Change Act after four years’ delay.
At this “African COP”, our country must challenge the world by announcing steps to greater justice, setting an example and calling on all nations to introduce global justice for our energy future and planetary wellbeing.
What action steps are needed?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that we must peak and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, so that there is a meaningful reduction by 2030. This is around the corner.
Fossil fuel companies are fighting this, promising huge wealth and job creation. When will they acknowledge that money is of no value on a dead planet? And when will the major polluting countries recognise their responsibility in causing the climate crisis and withdraw all investments in new fossil fuel projects?
Africa justifiably wants energy for its development, but this can be provided with renewables. For a just energy transition, the developed countries are morally bound to provide the financial resources to enable Africa to leapfrog the dirty fossil fuel age and enter the clean renewable age.
To be serious, we need to take bold action so that COP27 agrees to:
- End all further exploration for fossil fuels and all new extraction and stop constructing oil pipelines in Africa. The International Energy Agency has stated “there is no need for investments in new fossil fuel supply beyond 2021”. We can’t burn all the resources we already know about.
- Prohibit deforestation of indigenous trees, including tropical and savannah forests.
- Start the process of converting corporate agribusiness and factory farming to ethical, regenerative farming practices.
- Fast-track affordable and reliable public transport and roll out electric transport systems, so that there will be no further production of internal combustion engines by the end of this decade.
- Apply ethics to our decision-making so that we invest in the wellbeing of people and planet, not excessive profit. Profit and wealth acquisition should not be the deciding factor. Money is the means, the resource, to achieve the goal of human and planetary wellbeing.
The benefit, the reward, of such drastic measures will be a habitable and more peaceful planet for our children and all life.
Adopt ecological economics and stop the billionaire fossil fuel moguls leading us to destruction.
All a pipe dream? It can be done. We just need to know that we are totally dependent on this planet and the earth’s wellbeing. Care for and love planet earth, our only home.
The future of life is dependent on this. DM/OBP