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Contested territory

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11th March 2022

By: Terence Creamer
Creamer Media Editor


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The just transition was always going to be a highly contested concept and the battle, it appears, is only but beginning.

South Africa has already made remarkable progress in adding some flesh to the concept’s bare bones: first through the diligent work of the second National Planning Commission and, more recently, through the energetic efforts of the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC).


The PCC played a key role in ensuring that South Africa adopted a progressive decarbonisation position ahead of the Glasgow climate gathering last year with the commission’s input on the country’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) eventually winning Cabinet support.

The NDC range of 420- to 350-million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-eq) for 2030 is an improvement on South Africa’s 2015 pledge of 614 Mt CO2-eq to 398 Mt CO2-eq, with the lower figure compatible with a 1.5 °C pathway.


This NDC stance was then skilfully blended, in the run-up to COP26, with work that Eskom had been doing on its own Just Energy Transition strategy; a strategy that seeks to use the repurposing and repowering of decommissioned stations to provide for worker retraining, create new energy and nonenergy jobs in and around the sites, and unlock new energy and nonenergy economic activities in areas that have hitherto been inextricably linked to coal.

That blended package was then presented to those governments at COP26 that were desperately seeking to prove that their commitment to providing mitigation finance to developing countries was genuine. This, despite failing to honour a previous $100-billion-a-year climate commitment.

The outcome was a political declaration that included an offer of $8.5-billion in concessional climate finance for South Africa’s just energy transition; an offer that former South African Reserve Bank deputy governor Daniel Mminele, in his new role as head of the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team, has the responsibility to convert into politically and financially palatable transactions.

In parallel, the PCC aims to finalise a ‘Just Transition Framework’ this year for approval by Cabinet, having published a draft framework in late 2021. That draft indicates that the framework will be a strategic plan for achieving a just and equitable transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 and the foundation to guide other planning and policy processes.

At the same time, however, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy will be consulting on its own ‘Just Transition Framework for the Energy and Mining Sectors’, a draft of which was also published in late 2021.

While seriously confusing for stakeholders, the existence of two overlapping processes and frameworks is not necessarily a problem in itself, especially if the framework dedicated to the energy and mining sectors is fully aligned with the overarching country framework.

However, there are already signs of divergence, with Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe stating recently that South Africa needed to “refocus the debate”, while describing any “accelerated transition” as both “irrational and dangerous”.

Such confusion will surely make Mminele’s already difficult job all the more challenging.


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