All posts tagged: South Africa

Can South Africa’s Just Transition close the Energy Sectors Gender Gap?

South Africa’s energy transition passed significant milestones at the last two COPs (Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC). Over the last two years, a framework for a just transition was developed and adopted by government, considering the inclusion of groups left behind by the energy industry. Women in particular face numerous challenges in the energy sector: while they fail to profit from energy production, they are also deeply afflicted by the existential issues linked to coal-based energy production. Tunicia Phillips and Leona Schmitt take a closer look at South Africa’s just transition plans and how they seek to include women in the process.

Planning big at COP

Back at COP26, held in Glasgow in 2021, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union committed to a partnership to finance South Africa’s transition from coal, financed with a USD 8.5 bln fund. This partnership is referred to as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). South Africa, which is heavily reliant on aging coal-fired power stations for its national electricity supply, pledged to reduce emissions by almost one-third by 2030 (in comparison to its 2015 pledge). South African president Cyril Ramaphosa presented the nation´s JETP investment plan at last year’s COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

South Africa’s economy was built on cheap coal, and coal remains by far the largest source of the country’s electricity. While this arrangement will be incredibly difficult to dislodge, the country’s drastic power instabilities may offer some levers for reform At the core of the problem, Eskom, South Africa’s state power utility is so heavily indebted that it is unable to properly maintain its fleet of aging coal power plants or expand the grid. The USD8.5bn, although largely comprised of loans rather than grants, is key to enabling the country to expand its generation capacities.

In September 2020, Ramaphosa formed the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), to support the just transition towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy in South Africa.

The South African Embassy in Germany underscored the importance of the Just Energy Transition Partnership shortly after it was announced: “At the heart of this partnership is the importance of a just transition, which includes support for workers and communities affected by the transition away from coal and enables the creation of quality green jobs. For the transition to be just, decarbonization must be implemented in a manner that promotes and sustains employment, livelihoods, and economic inclusion for historically marginalized communities and sectors of our society.”

Women and the Energy Sector

Even though the need for inclusion is addressed in the overall discourse, current issues and schemes of exclusion must be identified to ensure a transition that is actually just. Including coal industry workers can be highly complex to turn into reality but, to strike real equity, those already left behind by the energy industry must be included.

When taking a closer look at women in energy production, a double-edged problem is obvious:

Firstly, women are largely underrepresented in the energy sector: At Eskom, women account for just 31% of the employees in the electric utility sector and provide just 21% of the workforce in the coal sector, meaning they profit very little from energy production.  WOESA (Women in Oil and Energy South Africa), an association of 21 companies committed to increasing the participation of black women in the energy sector, states that black women in South Africa have been at the lowest end of any form of business opportunity, if not excluded from it at all.

Secondly, women, as well as rural communities, the poor, youth, the elderly, people living in informal settlements, and other vulnerable groups that are already more exposed to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events, are the most affected by the negative impacts of coal-based energy production.

Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa, a civil society environmental justice and anti-nuclear organization, and commissioner of the PCC stated in an online dialogue that the fossil fuel industry is responsible for food insecurity, water pollution, and land appropriation, hitting hardest groups that are already marginalized.

Makoma Lekalakala, therefore, stresses that the planned renewable sector should be based on a system of solidarity, not just replacing old fossil power structures with the same measures of exclusion.

Social Justice in the Just Transition Framework:

The Just Transition Framework, implemented by the presidential PCC, was conducted to engrave principles for and coordinate policies and governance arrangements affecting the transition.

The framework names three principles for Social Justice that support an environmentally, economically, and most important socially sustainable transition: Distributional Justice, Restorative Justice, and Procedural Justice.

Distributional Justice points towards the necessity of fairly distributing risks and opportunities resulting from the transition. It is pointed out that impacted workers and communities cannot continue to bear the brunt of overall burdens and costs. It is essential, that the adjustment costs are borne by those historically responsible for the problem.

Restorative Justice aims to rectify historical damages against individuals, communities, and the environment. This form of reparation can usually be addressed with the polluter-pays principle. The framework does not clearly state whether the polluters are being held responsible.

“Nothing about us without us!” embodies the argument of Procedural Justice. This means taking an active part in decision-making regarding decisions that affect all, especially those currently left out of ruling and controlling. This requires structural changes and power redistribution.

Implementation opportunities

At COP 27, the JETP- Framework was translated into the JETP- Investment Plan, which highlighted key players and institutions for the implementation of a Just Transition. Although, as noted, the bulk of the funds will be allocated to expanding the country’s grid, some funds have been set aside for supporting reskilling initiatives and community owned renewable energy schemes. Besides reliable governmental steering, appropriate funding, and capital-disbursement management by intermediary institutions, the ongoing identification of needs on the community level with an emphasis on project visibility and cooperation with intermediary social partner organizations to support project investments were named. Private investments in renewable energy infrastructure are highlighted as necessary.

But in addition to governmental action in implementation, networking on local- and national levels among those excluded can help them to tap into their potential. A great (but admittedly large-scale) example is The Women Energize Women Conference.  Implemented by German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) taking place in May 2022. The conference invited women from all over the world to connect, gain more visibility and shape the discussion on the energy transition.

Live with each other and the planet

Lekalakala sums it up greatly by stating: “The Just Transition is about changing relations of power between people to create a more equal society where people can live with each other and with the planet.”

As acknowledged in the PCC- developed Framework and the minds of many, a just transition is the only way to deal with upcoming upheavals due to local climate change adaptations. If conducted properly, it creates a win-win situation between South African social and environmental sectors. To include most affected groups in a reasonable way, especially those suffering from multi-level exclusion, must be the number one priority coupled with a guarantee that those groups will benefit from the energy transition, rather than continuing to suffer from it. People and the improvement of their lives and livelihood must be at the center of the climate change response, a fact that is especially pressing for those most impacted.

South Africa secures international aid at COP27 to champion the coal to renewables shift

South Africa’s ambitious plan to transition away from coal was endorsed at the recent COP27 climate conference in Egypt where officials from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, and the European Union signed pledges of $8.5 billion to help fund its initial steps. Currently South Africa relies upon coal to generate up to 87% of its electricity, but by the end of the decade the nation wants to close more than half its aging, unreliable coal-fired power stations and replace them with new solar and renewables. Yet today state-owned energy provider Eskom is struggling to provide consistent electricity. But despite the climate benefits, citizens and miners fear the plan may end up costing hundreds of thousands of jobs, lead to the privatization of Eskom and rapid market liberalization as operators race to construct solar farms near existing coal facilities. Lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews the situation. Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series.

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Black gold: South Africa’s mixed coal messages

South Africa has just been given a purse of $8.5 billion to help accelerated its move away from coal. But as the international climate negotiations wrapped up in Glasgow, a few key developments at home suggest that the continent’s biggest polluter is not in a hurry to end its relationship with coal. Leonie Joubert takes a closer look.

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Universal basic income: the answer to a post-carbon South Africa

When South Africa emerged from the most severe of the COVID lockdowns in 2020, nearly one in three employable adults was jobless. The country’s escalating unemployment is a symptom of an unequal economy inherited from generations of colonial- and apartheid-era exploitation. Could a universal basic income be the answer to a more equitable post-carbon world? Leonie Joubert investigates.

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Could a Green New Deal clean up Africa’s dirtiest electricity grid?

Civil society organisations in South Africa are proposing a post-WW2-style economic recovery programme to steer energy transformation for the state utility that echoes Roosevelt’s New Deal in the USA. But the country has been thrown into an even deeper energy crisis, following an explosion at one of the country’s newly-minted power stations. Could this make the ‘Green New Eskom’ idea even more relevant? Leonie Joubert investigates.

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Threatening Africa’s Eden – Oil and gas plans loom over the world’s largest nature conservation area

Environmental disasters and global warming severely threaten global biodiversity. Few wild places can boast diverse ecosystems that are largely intact. One such area – Kavango Zambezi Transfontier Conservation Area (KAZA) – is being threatened by plans by the oil and gas industry. Andy Gheorghiu reports on the fight to prevent oil and gas extraction in Southern Africa that is threatening our planet’s largest nature protection zone.

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South Africa’s new energy policy is a game-changer for Africa’s biggest carbon polluter

What better way to set a country on a path to a just transition than to allow lower-income families to harvest the free solar energy falling on or around their homes, and sell it to the national grid? After years of regulatory deadlock on the private sale of electricity in South Africa, sudden tectonic policy changes mean community energy co-operatives might be able to join the energy supply sector.

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Plug-and-play power stations may be ‘steaming’ towards SA waters

South Africa is taking emergency steps to plug the holes in a leaky electricity grid that are causing another season of scheduled power outages. One of these involves hiring three plug-and-play ocean-based mobile power stations – so-called ‘powerships’. But local energy experts warn that these are risky, expensive, and that the money would be far better spent building utility scale solar and wind plants. 

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