Enabling a just transition in South Africa

Rudolf du Plessis, par­tic­i­pant of the COBENEFITS Online Train­ing, South Africa (© Rudolf du Plessis)

In this part of our series Co-ben­e­fits Sto­ries, Rudolf du Plessis dis­cuss­es the cor­ner­stones of a just tran­si­tion in South Africa. For this series, we have asked ener­gy pro­fes­sion­als that have par­tic­i­pat­ed in our train­ings for their thoughts and expe­ri­ences on co-ben­e­fits of renew­able ener­gy in their country.

“South Africa’s depen­dence on coal is begin­ning to show signs of dis­rup­tion. The sus­tain­abil­i­ty tran­si­tion will depend on the pol­i­cy deci­sions that are made today. A just tran­si­tion rep­re­sents one of many poten­tials in South Africa’s future and may not come to life with­out joint efforts of gov­ern­ment, organ­ised labour and the min­ing sector.

Con­sid­er­ing the inter­play between envi­ron­men­tal and social con­sid­er­a­tions in employ­ment, the con­cept of a just tran­si­tion in the con­text of South Africa’s socio-polit­i­cal regime will need to be com­pre­hen­sive, beyond mere­ly com­pen­sat­ing exist­ing work­ers employed in coal pro­duc­tion and ener­gy gen­er­a­tion. Giv­en South Africa’s devel­op­men­tal chal­lenges and specif­i­cal­ly those faced by local gov­ern­ments in Mpumalan­ga, it is imper­a­tive that a just tran­si­tion includes ben­e­fits to the broad­er pub­lic and are aligned with the coun­tries’ devel­op­men­tal objec­tives (of which reduc­ing unem­ploy­ment is a key tar­get). Ini­tial steps towards such a tran­si­tion could include the following:

Inte­grat­ing green skills into local eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment frame­works: South Africa’s Inte­grat­ed Urban Devel­op­ment Frame­work man­dates munic­i­pal­i­ties to devise prac­ti­cal strate­gies for eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment with­in their bound­aries. These can include strate­gies for facil­i­tat­ing invest­ments, skill devel­op­ment or train­ing. Munic­i­pal­i­ties should inte­grate tar­get­ed train­ing for coal work­ers in green skills such as Solar PV instal­la­tion and train­ing in elec­tri­cal wiring and plumb­ing to enable local­i­sa­tion and incen­tivise invest­ments in the renew­ables sector.

Eco­nom­ic diver­si­fi­ca­tion that goes beyond inte­grat­ing into the min­ing sup­ply chain: Nation­al and local Gov­ern­ments’ exist­ing efforts to incu­bate small, medi­um and micro-size enter­pris­es (SMMEs) in South Africa’s coal pro­duc­ing regions such as Steve Tswhete Local Munic­i­pal­i­ty (STLM) should move beyond incu­bat­ing busi­ness­es from the min­ing sup­ply chain and should play a greater role in con­nect­ing emerg­ing firms with green pro­cure­ment ini­tia­tives. This will have the twofold effect of cre­at­ing new employ­ment gen­er­at­ing sec­tors, whilst diver­si­fy­ing the econ­o­my of min­ing com­mu­ni­ties beyond coal.

Giv­en recent announce­ments that South African munic­i­pal­i­ties may gen­er­ate their own ener­gy beyond 10MW, munic­i­pal­i­ties should localise renew­able ener­gy. First steps to achiev­ing this should include in-house capac­i­ty build­ing, trans­par­ent pub­lic pro­cure­ment and the devel­op­ment of project pipelines in order to facil­i­tate invest­ments into the sector.”

The Kruis­vallei Run-of-Riv­er hydro pow­er plant which is in part financed by KfW. The 4MW of hydro-elec­tric plant will gen­er­ate around 24GWh p/a pro­vid­ing pow­er for about 1,916 house­holds. In addi­tion to improv­ing ener­gy secu­ri­ty and increas­ing the share of IPP pow­er in South Africa’s ener­gy mix, the Kruis­vallei hydro has also com­mit­ted a per­cent­age of its rev­enues to devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in the region, which includes edu­ca­tion and hous­ing.
(© Rudolf du Plessis) 

Based on insights of the COBENEFITS research group, the Renew­ables Acad­e­my (RENAC) cur­rent­ly con­ducts train­ings in Turkey, Kenya, South Africa and Mex­i­co. Par­tic­i­pants learn about co-ben­e­fits of renew­able ener­gy in cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion, tools to quan­ti­fy and com­mu­ni­cate social and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties and poli­cies and instru­ments to mobilise them.