FacebookTwitterLinkedInCopy LinkEmailPrint

Just Transitions: Local Lessons and Global Insights from South Africa

This podcast offers insights from South Africa’s long history of engaging with just transitions in the context of high unemployment, inequality, poverty, and dependence on coal.

This podcast covers just transitions in South Africa, a country that has some of the highest levels of inequality, unemployment, and poverty in the world. South Africa is also highly dependent on coal, despite a substantial renewable energy procurement program. The discussion draws on a recent case study of just transitions in South Africa, and covers issues including sustainable development, social dialogue, financing a just transition, social transformation, geographic disparities, and skills development.

Participants

  • Neha Sharma: Evaluations and Learning Specialist, Climate Investment Funds
  • Mike Ward: Senior Sustainability Consultant, Climate Investment Funds
  • Brenda Martin: Director of Career Services, University of Cape Town
FacebookTwitterLinkedInCopy LinkEmailPrint

Related
from the Resource Library

Just Transition Concepts and Relevance for Climate Action

This report explains the origins and evolution of just transitions, and offers a framework to represent the range of definitions as well as underlying ideologies and approaches.

Detail

This report outlines the origins of just transitions in the US labor movement, the later adoption of the concept by the environmental and climate justice movements, and its role in international climate negotiations. The authors note that the term “just transitions” evokes a range of responses, from enthusiasm to confusion to outright skepticism, suggesting the need for a clear definition.

The paper presents a framework to capture the range of definitions and interpretations of just transitions. One key dimension is scope, including both distributional impacts—or who and what is affected in transitions—as well as intention (the ideological preference between reforming or transforming existing political and economic systems through just transitions). The other dimension in the framework is social inclusion, or the range of recognition and procedural justice for various groups. The framework does not seek to identify a single “correct” definitions of just transitions, but rather captures a range of ideologies and approaches to the concept.

A final section of the paper suggests that the next stage of just transitions work will be to advance solutions and to apply lessons learned. The authors list several priorities for future research including concrete tools and strategies, more case studies of developing countries, more effective social engagement, and new financing methods.

Supporting Just Transitions in South Africa: A Case Study

This case study explores key dimensions of just transitions and draws lessons from the Climate Investment Funds (CIF)’s contributions to the energy transition, the expansion of renewable energy, and the implications for workers and communities in South Africa.

Detail

This case study explores key dimensions of just transition in South Africa, which has a long engagement with the concept and was one of the first countries to include an explicit reference to just transitions in its Nationally Determined Contribution. The case study reflects on the contributions of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), through its partner multilateral development banks, to the energy transition in South Africa.

The document uses the just transitions framework developed by the CIF and the Center for Strategic and International Studies to explore issues of social inclusion and distributional justice in South Africa’s energy transition. It provides a broader review of South Africa’s energy transition implications for national planning, and discusses social inclusion, financing, Covid-19 recovery programs, skills development and geographic disparities.

Resistance to Coal and the Possibilities of a Just Transition in South Africa

This paper examines anti-coal efforts led by mining-affected communities, environmental organizations, and labor unions and considers how they could become a “counter-power” for driving a transformative, just transition.

Detail

This paper examines coal-related struggles in South Africa, asking whether resistance from mining-affected communities, the labor community, and the environmental justice movement can counteract the state’s agenda and the coal industry to promote an alternative social order. The author argues that, in the process of elite capture, the current concept of just transitions has lost its transformative potential and now represents market-driven change toward a new, privatized renewable energy regime.

The findings of this study are based on exchange workshops with representatives from these three social groups. In many mining-affected communities, dependence on coal creates socially complex, ambiguous patterns of resistance. While there is collective action against coal-related activities, resistance is not directed against coal per se but rather against environmental pollution, migrant laborers, and damage from mine blasts. There seems to be little recognition that coal mine closures are inevitable, and community members often feel that the “just transitions” concept lacks substance or a clear alternative vision to coal. The author describes the narratives and struggles within the labor and environmental justice communities as well.

The author suggests that a “counter-power” is required to build a movement for greater equality, increased sustainability, and alternative development pathways to coal. However, generating this counter-power involves linking different struggles. The author suggests that livelihoods, defined as the immediate needs of poor communities, can be the bridge for shared understanding.

Coal Kills: Research and Dialogue for a Just Transition

This report describes the environmental and health tolls of coal mining in South Africa and provides recommendations to move forward with a just transition.

Detail

This compilation of research from various institutions details the environmental and social harm caused by South Africa’s coal industry. The report provides detailed analysis of the social, gender, and environmental impacts of coal mining and identifies the failures of South Africa’s social and environmental policy frameworks.

Coal regions such as Highveld and Mpumalanga, which contain the largest fertile lands in the country and were once an important source of fresh water, have been reduced to “toxic lands.” Several essays in the report criticize the government’s failure to regulate air pollution, calling for tighter regulatory oversight and a new focus on sustainability founded in economic, social, and environmental justice. The report criticizes the lack of enforcement of the Social and Labor Plans (SLPs) that coal companies must submit to win mining licenses. The Centre for Applied Legal Studies outlines the absence of community involvement or transparency in such plans, which often means communities have no access to them. Two organizations, groundWork and Friends of the Earth South Africa, call for a just transition as the only way forward for South Africans. An appendix in the report includes recommended links to reports and studies by other environmental groups.