South Africa's energy transition will leave no one behind

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Government will not leave any community or industry behind as the country gradually transitions from a high carbon emitting country to a low carbon emissions economy.

This is according to Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, who was speaking during a breakaway session at the South Africa Investment Conference on Thursday.

The transition is expected to affect at least 100 000 jobs in the mining sector, as well as communities that thrive off the coal mining industry – particularly those communities in Mpumalanga’s coal belt, where at least 80% of Eskom’s coal fired power stations are located.

“As we transition, we must leave no one behind. We know that the coal generation sector is still responsible for 90% of our energy generation. We know that coal will be part of our energy mix into the 2040s and we know that the jobs in the coal value chain are well paid jobs with good benefits.

“Therefore, as we gradually transition to lower forms of energy generation and production, we have to make sure that those workers have new forms of employment but also are not just carrying the risks of transition but they will in fact be beneficiaries of any transition,” she said.

The Minister said the transition will open new pathways for South Africans in the economy but that the expected changes must be accompanied with meaningful consultations with communities and civil society.

“What is exciting about the Just Energy Transition’s investment plan is that it presents us with new opportunities for industrialisation, for the creation of new jobs, new forms of ownership, new technology, new finance and new social partnerships.

“But, most importantly, none of this is going to work unless we think about new ways of involving those whose lives and livelihoods are most at risk by this transition. We need to move away from the pie in the sky consultations about the Just Energy Transition and we need to start to say, if you need to build new transmission, how are social partners going to be involved, how are they going to be sharing in the benefits and not just in the risks,” she said.

The Minister explained that the energy transition is necessitated by government’s commitment to an international call to take action as the world faces the devastating effects on the world.

She said that without this transition, South Africa faces biophysical risk in terms of climate change and transitional risk to the economy.

“[The biophysical risk is] a threat to human life, human livelihood and also to the built environment from extreme weather events. Because South Africa is a mega biodiverse country, it means we have the full spectrum of climate induced disasters… floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and in due course, we will also have sea level rises.

“The transition risk… arises as a result of the fact that we are a middle income country with a small dependent economy that is locked into a whole range of international relationships. What we’re seeing is that the world around us is starting to transition to lower carbon footprints both in terms of energy generation and general manufacturing.

“What we are also seeing is the beginnings of carbon border taxes where developed countries and many of our major trading partners are going to be trying to protect their investments in low carbon development by introducing border tariffs. So both from a biophysical and transition risk point of view, it’s in our interests to set ourselves onto a lower carbon gross trajectory,” she explained. –