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The future we want: A just transition is possible

Shipping containers were washed away after heavy rains caused flooding, in Durban. We live in one of the most affected regions in the world, and frequently experience droughts, storms and floods associated with global warming, says the writer. File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Shipping containers were washed away after heavy rains caused flooding, in Durban. We live in one of the most affected regions in the world, and frequently experience droughts, storms and floods associated with global warming, says the writer. File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Published May 10, 2022

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By Valli Moosa

The “just” part of a “just transition” means that we focus on people: the people that must be supported and empowered as we transition away from fossil fuels and become more resilient to climate impacts.

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Our commission includes 10 government ministers and representatives from many major stakeholder groups in South Africa: business, labour, civil society, research and academic institutions, youth, and traditional leadership.

The commission was set up like this because it needs to broker a consensus between the social partners about how to achieve a just climate transition.

This innovative and unique social partnership allows us to tackle pressing issues with broad support and consensus.

While we are a fairly new commission, we are already making waves.

I am particularly proud that the Commission’s recommendations for a more ambitious national climate target, based on robust evidence and detailed modelling studies, were embraced by the Cabinet last September.

The revised emissions pathway set out in the NDC was embraced by government and social partners because it is not only the morally correct thing to do but crucially because it is in our economic interests. We cannot afford to be left behind as the world economy decarbonises.

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This ambitious climate target played a catalytic role in securing the $8.5 billion (about R137 billion) just energy transition partnership at COP26 in Glasgow, last year — a partnership that will help accelerate our deployment of renewable energy, green hydrogen, and electric vehicles while transitioning away from coal.

Over the last several months, we have worked with social partners in developing a Just Transition Framework for South Africa—in essence, a planning tool that sets out a shared vision and principles for the transition and the priority interventions.

We have hosted several dialogues with a wide reach, engaging ministers, company leaders, civil society, academia, youth, traditional leadership, and labour groups. We have commissioned new research on what it means to achieve a just transition and what it will take to get there.

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And we have visited communities across the country — from the auto hub in Gqerberha to the petrochemicals industry in Durban South Basin to the coal belts in Mpumalanga and Limpopo and the rural agricultural heartland in Xolobeni.

We have heard our communities loud and clear: We feel the impacts of a changing climate, and we commit to the economic transition that is under way.

We understand the unequal burden of risks that poorer communities and workers face in this climate transition. And we see the opportunities in the transition towards a greener and more sustainable economy with a seat at the decision table.

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A just transition means a people-centred approach to addressing the impacts of climate change.

It is about improving the lives and livelihoods of all South Africans, particularly those that are bearing the brunt of climate impacts.

It is about protecting and empowering workers and communities as our country carefully navigates the shift away from fossil fuels.

Achieving a just transition is an idea that our president is committed to.

Indeed, we cannot forget the burden that climate change poses to our economy and our people.

We live in one of the most affected regions in the world and frequently experience droughts, storms and floods associated with global warming.

The recent devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal put these climate impacts in sharp focus, causing catastrophic loss of life and widespread destruction.

Hundreds of people lost their lives. Homes, roads, and bridges, were washed away.

Public buildings, shops and farms were flooded.

Disasters like those in KwaZulu-Natal remind us that it is poorer communities — women and young people, the unemployed, and those living in informal settlements, that are most vulnerable to climate change.

We must continue to build our resilience to the impacts of climate change through early warning systems, stronger infrastructure, and disaster risk management systems.

It is imperative that as we build back from the catastrophic events in KwaZulu-Natal, we do so in a climate-resilient way.

Our social and economic infrastructure must be made climate-resilient in a systematic and forward-looking manner.

The discussion on the future we want represents a celebration and culmination of these stakeholder engagements and community consultations as we look toward finalising a Just Transition Framework for South Africa.

The continuing dialogue presents an opportunity for you to share your views on what constitutes a just transition and to spell out the principal elements and specific requirements of the just transition.

Every voice is critical, and every perspective is valuable. Indeed, this type of dialogue embodies the unifying nature of our Commission, fostering an inclusive process to define a plan for our country that is shared by all.

I hope I can rely on all South Africans to participate actively in the debates around the climate transition in our attempt to find common ground.

Let’s get to work.

* Valli Moosa is the Deputy Chairperson, Presidential Climate Commission.

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