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SA – A blueprint for the just transition energy plan

by Salaamedia Intern
South Africa is the blueprint for just transition energy plan Photo Pexels

South Africa – The International Partners Group (IPG) has endorsed South Africa’s R1.5 trillion just energy transition plan. This is a big step forward for South Africa in its aim to realise it’s just transition ambitions. The IPG includes the UK, US, Germany, France and the EU. These countries, initially pledged $8.5 billion, also plan to make an additional R10 billion available.

The just transition movement is all about reducing the negative impacts on workers and communities while a country transitions from coal to a zero-carbon economy. What is important is that the investment is made known to the public and is not a loan, said Thomas Mnguni, groundWork Community Activist.

“GroundWork … in partnership with some of our community partners, we have been vocal to say we need this investment to be public. We need to make sure part of the investment does not include loans but it should be more grant funding. We don’t want to find a just transition through loans because then it means, in the long run, it won’t be just … If we are not transparent then chances are we’ll see high levels of corruption and this money will not go to its intended beneficiaries or its intended purpose.”


How the money should be used 

This investment builds on the $8.5 billion pledge by the IPG which was made at COP 26 last year. It is to assist South Africa in decarbonising the economy in order to meet its climate commitments. The president has outlined three spheres in which the money will be spent, said Mnguni. These are all related to infrastructure.

“One, is on electricity generation. It is important because as a country we need a reliable supply of electricity. We need to stop loadshedding. The second aspect is the money will be spent on electric vehicles. I don’t think we want to use climate finance to fund the private sector. When we talk about electric motor vehicles, the question must be how that money can be used to finance a public transport system that is sufficient and reliable. The third aspect is the development of green hydrogen. I would say if its infrastructure we are talking about then it needs to be infrastructure that will serve the needs of the people and will address service issues.”

It would be a waste, in the eyes of Mnguni, if this money is used or given to the private sector. He believes companies like Sasol and the motor industry have enough revenue to make the changes themselves if they wish to do so.

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The need for the just transition energy plan to be successful

South Africa is being used as a blueprint for nations that are still using coal and want to transition to renewable energy. If South Africa should fail, not only will it hurt other nations’ chances of receiving the help they need to transition but they would have failed the world.

“South Africa is going to be used as an example of energy transition. I think it is deserving for other countries to give more grants to South Africa so they can all have an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t in this process … South Africa is not in a position to afford any further loans.”

For the plan to be a success, South Africa needs to hold each and everyone accountable. Government also needs to involve the people of the country, said Mnguni. A country cannot develop or move forward without taking into account the needs of its people.

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The dangers of the just transition energy plan

The president made a firm promise to close a number of coal power plants in Mpumalanga in line with the just transition energy plane. While there is a fear that closing Mpumalanga’s coal-fired power plants can result in job losses, Makoma Lekalakala, Johannesburg Director of EarthLife, explained these plants need to be decommissioned anyway. They also are a serious health risk to the people working there and who stay in the area.

“I think the issue of jobs is a very sensitive issue and that is why I believe this transition is for the benefit of all. The coal-fired power plants in Mpumalanga have reached their lifespan so they need to be decommissioned. If not, they need to be retrofitted with a new one [technology] and we have been told that this is expensive. What we need to think about is the loss of life, the health of the people, the pollution of streams, the pollution of the soil in the area. We also need to ask whether the jobs in the coal mines or the power stations are clean jobs because workers end up being sick from the work they are doing.”

However, Hameda Deedat argued the power plants are being decommissioned earlier than they are supposed to. The government has also not made any plans on what can be done to help those who will inevitably lose their jobs because of this.

“South Africa has not made a political commitment to address the issues of unemployment and is not going to do so when it closes down the coal-fired power stations. The state of our coal-fired power stations, in terms of decommissioning, was supposed to be 2050. The current position is accelerated decommissioning without a just transition and that is not fair … There is no plan and as long as there’s no plan, we as workers, will stand up and say we will not carry the consequences of climate change for the second time.”

Deedat added that South Africa contributes less than 1% to greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is being demanded to accelerate much more quickly to a decarbonised economy than most developed countries who contribute much more to greenhouse gas emissions.

The success of the just transition energy plan will be measured on how it benefits the people of the country. South Africa needs to do two things in order for it to work, find ways to employ those who will lose their jobs and build infrastructure that will not only provide clean energy but also benefit the community at large.

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