I write as a citizen of South Africa. My street cred is that I am a single mom with a disability and I can’t afford solar power. My professional cred is that I am a qualified and experienced environmentalist and I have worked in the renewable energy sector in various roles, including research around the transition.
I, among many other South Africans, would like to be heard.
Knowing what I know about climate change and the very real, very urgent need for a transition away from fossil fuels is not enough. It’s not enough to motivate me to invest my scarce funds into solar energy panels. It’s not enough for me to invest time in finding out what energy alternatives are on offer (where is a central hub of knowledge on solar power technology for households?!).
I am, frankly, put off by the male-driven, low-access, user-unfriendly sources. I am put off by the exorbitant costs of investment in such technologies. I know that the long-term investment will pay off, but as a woman with a chronic degenerative disease, I have other priorities.
And so I am aware of how most South Africans must feel. If I am in this position, and I am highly educated and privileged, how are the majority of South Africans coping?
I recently watched a webinar about the challenges of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) programmes in South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam. The JETP, boiled down to its nutshell, should represent a relatively low-cost way for South Africa to “rapidly cut emissions and stimulate private investment in clean energy, electrification and other green technologies”.
I am not going to delve into the politics involved (there are more than enough other articles in Daily Maverick on this). I want to know how the country is working together to make this transition safe and affordable for everyone, including me. And Fatima. And Blywell. And Siphokazi.
The webinar included South African researcher Dr Tracy Ledger of the Public Affairs Research Institute. Ledger said something that resonated strongly with me – “we can’t address our energy priority until we address energy poverty”.
This should be the logo of the Just Transition. Even though we are facing pressing climate change impacts, and even though we need renewable energy ASAP, we cannot continue to bypass the needy. This then further entrenches inequality and deepens poverty.
Poverty is a vicious circle that is now spiralling inwards with the impacts of load shedding – less access to affordable power. Ledger quoted a study which showed that households with affordable access to electricity are three times more likely to start a small business.
Light, power and the internet provide households with some resilience. We need this level of resilience to face climate change shocks.
I am angry that the Global North is not offering realistic incentives or grant funding for the Just Transition. Apparently, the JETP package share of grants in the new arrangement amounts to less than 3%.
I am angry that it’s going to be distributed in the old, worn-out methods of power politics. I am angry that I, as a South African citizen who has worked with government institutions for years, am so easily ignored.
I resent that, despite good case studies and evidence, we never see transformative, systemic changes. I, and many others, have been singing the song of decentralised community-based approaches for years, for water and energy.
The reality is that we don’t need a few, big installations. We need many small, localised supply interventions. But nobody wants to do the hard work.
Why on earth do the Just Transition funders not provide funding to facilitative agencies? Organisations that work to bring coherence and co-creation at the coalface, excuse the pun? The ones who make changes? The ones on the ground, who work with communities to catalyse change?
It boils down to a lack of willingness to lose power by the people we voted into power.
At the very least, get renewable energy developments to integrate socially just frameworks into their processes.
At the very least, invest in affordable renewable energy solutions for poor households.
At the very least, don’t let load shedding destroy our water quality too (don’t get me started on this one). DM