In the South African context, where almost half a million people are employed in the mining sector, the transition to clean energy has to answer the question, “What about the jobs?”. While many livelihoods do indeed depend on carbon intensive energy, ‘job loss’ and ‘going green’ are certainly not synonymous terms. This point is among the many hypotheses that the Just Transition has set out to prove.
While energy production will play a massive role in the Just Transition, inclusivity is also a key element. Meaning that the Just Transition is more of an umbrella term, which represents the crucial factors which need to be addressed as South Africa decarbonises its economy.
In the Presidential Climate Change’s “Just Transition Framework” several key elements and ideologies are built into the definition of a “Just Transition”. These include quality of life for all South Africans, increased climate adaptation capacity and people-centric decision making, specifically focussing on the poor, the youth, people with disabilities and women.
Specific areas targeted by this document include energy systems, conservation of natural resources, equitable access to water resources, sustainable and equitable land use for all, and an environment that is not harmful to one’s health.
In this article we will look into the role that these elements have to play in South Africa’s future, and double down on why a Just Transition is crucial for a sustained journey towards a Green Future.
As implied by the name “Just Transition”, the integration of Justice must be an integral part of our transition. Here, the Presidential Commission on Climate Change’s “Just Transition Framework” outlines 3 forms of Justice which the Just Transition is to prioritize. These are Distributive Justice, Restorative Justice and Procedural Justice.
Distributive Justice implies that the benefits (and risks) of the transition must be distributed fairly. Whilst Climate Change is a societal issue, those who will be most impacted by it cannot be made to carry the risks and burdens of the transition alone. Importantly, those who are historically responsible for the problem must be brought to the table.
Restorative Justice speaks to the damage which has historically been inflicted on many communities and groups of people. Simply put the transition is charged with “Healing the People and Healing the Land”.
Procedural Justice speaks to the need to include people, groups and small businesses in the transition while allowing these parties to define their own trajectories. The Just Transition needs to centre the right people and let them define their own outcomes.
The current energy system is highly reliant on fossil fuel production, mainly coal plants. As a result of this, fossil fuel extraction and production have continued to negatively impact the environment. It has continuously caused air and water pollution, and has become a major contributor to South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. Owing to the rapid development of the Renewable Energy sector, brown power is no longer even the cheapest form of energy. In short, the continuation of a coal-dependent energy system threatens the health of the environment, the economy and our livelihoods.
Thus for a Just Transition, the phasing out of our coal dependent system and shifting to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro is simply crucial. This is in order to reach net zero by 2050 (South Africa’s current goal). The Just Transition takes into account the needs of workers, communities, and environments which will be impacted by these changes in the energy sector. This means no one should be left behind. While there will be a loss of jobs, a loss of coal reserves, and a loss of capital investments in coal mining, renewable energy projects will bring more jobs, new opportunities, and new costs associated with this transition. Electricity should be made cheaper and more reliable. A transition into the renewable energy sector promises a boost in overall economic growth and job creation.
South Africa is currently facing a disastrous job shortage, which is affecting people across a broad range of LSMs. Owing to this severe job crisis, the term “NEET” is being used to summarize a growing group of South Africans – it stands for “Not in Employment, Education or Training”. In Q3 of 2021 there more than 17 million South Africans classified as NEETs, with more than half of these being between the ages of 15-34. It is easy to see, thus, why the jobs that currently exist in South Africa are absolutely sacred. With the energy component of the Just Transition alone jeopardizing thousands of mining jobs, this an immediate point of contention. It’s also important to keep in mind that the jobs at risk here are low-wage jobs, which reflects the low barriers of entry into these jobs. The Just Transition is thus faced with the challenge of not only creating more jobs, but creating more jobs with a low barrier to entry. New jobs for university graduates cannot be the only jobs created through the Just Transition. In fact, these should be the minority of new jobs, with the majority being accessible to most South Africans.
Historically in South Africa, there has been an unfair distribution of land ownership under the laws of the apartheid era. It was after the establishment of our democracy in 1994 that land reformation was put in place, which is the process of restoring land with a focus on agriculture and ownership.
In many ways land plays an important role for the growth of South Africa. Our livelihoods depend on land as it allows us to feed ourselves, house ourselves and generate income. One huge area of importance is land usage for the agricultural sector, which was reported at almost 80% in 2020. Agriculture has a crucial role to play in boosting the economy of our country, ensuring food security and reducing poverty.
The potential for growth in our country through land does not only lie in the agricultural sector, but there is also potential for growth through reformed land ownership and ecotourism. To some groups as well, certain pieces of land may hold a symbolic meaning, symbolizing a sense of connection to the roots of their culture. This influences the way land is treated, which affects the ecosystem and in turn affects the future of land.
Land also plays a role as a carbon sink, with plants, trees and even the soil all absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than they release. This is crucial function as South Africa strives decarbonize our economy.
When we think of the future of land, the Just Transition should prioritize the balance and connection between humans and nature, as well as the economic potential of each piece of land, and distributing this fairly for all South Africans.
Water is an essential component for our survival on Earth, and adequate access to water is crucial for our health and well-being and ability to pursue productive livelihoods. Without water it would not be possible to grow the plants, fruits, vegetables, or livestock which contribute to our food security. No living thing would be able to survive without water.
However, water inaccessibility is a very real issue in our country and is often flagged as a crisis. There are a number of causes for water inaccessibility, including a lack of well-maintained water related municipal infrastructure, water pollution, economic inequality, natural disasters/climate change and more.
This can have a variety of consequences for individuals, communities, and ecosystems. For individuals, a lack of access to clean, safe drinking water can contribute to health problems such as dehydration and water-borne diseases. For communities, water scarcity can lead to economic losses due to reduced agricultural production, disrupted industries, and negative impacts on tourism. For ecosystems it can cause damage to habitats and biodiversity. In all cases, water scarcity can lead to an increased risk of conflict, as people fight over access to limited water resources.
Climate change, which causes changes in weather patterns, affects the availability and quality of water. These changes lead to droughts and floods. At the same time, increased water use from human activities is putting pressure on water resources. This leads to the overuse of ground and surface water and the pollution of water bodies. For example, the generation of energy from coal consumes about 3 000 litres of water for every MWh produced. The need for a shift to renewable resources is not only needed for energy production, but for ensuring water security and water quality as well. This echoes the interconnectedness of sustainability issues, and shows why the Just Transition needs to look at such a broad range of issues.
While the Just Transition is just starting, we urge all South African’s to consider themselves stakeholders in its success. Thus, in closing we urge you to consider the closing remarks of the Just Transition Framework, “The just transition has significant implications for all social partners. Indeed, a successful transition requires collective action, pulling toward a shared vision, with a high degree of trust between all parties to undertake their respective, important individual roles in such a transition. The urgency and scale of the task at hand necessitates a sincere commitment by all stakeholders.”
Written by Kerishma Ramnath & Conor Jenkins