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Taking Back the Just Transition for Climate Protection and Decent Work!

The AIDC, with the support of FES, is inviting you to debate the energy transition in South Africa. This discussion amongst trade unionists, social and environmental justice activists is urgent in light of the crisis of energy and climate policy. There are growing differences on a range of issues, not least the role of Eskom and independent power producers, which are standing in the way of building an effective movement for a just transition. 

You are invited to participate in this dialogue and help shape pathways to a just transition for climate protection and decent work. It will be held in Johannesburg on the 30th of November at 10 AM. Please note that attendees are kindly requested to RSVP as seats are limited. You can also join via Zoom by registering here. The dialogue will also be streamed on our social media platforms. Email to RSVP.  


Neoliberal policymakers spent many years resisting the international trade union movement’s efforts at inserting just transition language into climate agreements. Now the concept and language of the just transition has been co-opted to give green growth and green structural adjustment a compelling veneer. 

The Just Energy Transition Partnership of mostly foreign loans to incentivise the South African government to accelerate the privatisation of the electricity sector is being developed as a template for opening up the energy sector in many countries in the global South. This will create great opportunities for corporations in the global North to offset their emission profile through investments in renewable energy markets while continuing their polluting operations. 

But rather than leading to the decarbonisation of the energy sector and the greater economy, green growth will simply aid the current dynamic of an energy expansion rather than an energy transition. Renewable energy is growing, but so too is the use of fossil fuels. The energy expansion is driving up emissions and global average temperatures, producing climate instability in all regions of the world. Renewables and other sources of low-carbon energy are growing too slowly to change the overall picture. Rising emissions illustrate the ineffectiveness of neoliberal climate policy and warn us from seeing the energy transition as inevitable, and all we must do is ensure “no one is left behind.” 

The fact that fossil-based energy use is expanding and emissions are rising draws attention to the ineffectiveness of neoliberal climate and energy policy. Contrary to the view being aggressively promoted here in South Africa, the policies put in place to address climate change are not working elsewhere, and they will also lead to failure in South Africa.

The South African government thinks that unbundling Eskom and offering incentives to IPPs will create an “enabling environment” for private capital and the money will soon come pouring in. Yet, one of the main reasons for emissions continuing to rise is the lack of investment in low-carbon energy and climate-friendly technologies. While the world is awash with capital, the opportunities to make money from climate protection are extremely limited. Public subsidies have been used to make profitable what would not otherwise be profitable.

In terms of the Just Energy Transition Partnership, what has been promised at COP 26 and enhanced at COP 27 is a fraction of the investments of what a real JUST transition will require and its financing through loans will seriously threaten SA’s economic sovereignty. Market-led energy transitions are almost by definition unjust, since protecting the livelihoods of workers and poor communities stand in the way of profiting from investments in energy transitions. It is hardly likely, in a context where the government is undertaking debt reduction programmes through harsh budget cuts, that the state will guarantee decent work for the thousands of workers the IMF and World Bank suggest are surplus for the electricity sector.

Liberalisation and privatisation of the electricity sector will see the marginalisation of Eskom from a public sector utility responsible for almost 90% of electricity generation, to a bit player, unable to compete with private corporations who will come to dominate the energy industry. As profit and accumulation of capital becomes the dominant motive for investment and energy provision, tariffs will multiply and jobs will be shed – the opposite
of a just transition.

Various trade unions and the AIDC have been working on promoting an alternative perspective and strategy, what we call a public pathway approach This sees the road to a just energy transition and an effective climate policy, which substantially reduces our carbon emissions, protects jobs and promotes the social and economic development of our country, running through the fixing of Eskom and positioning, Eskom towards driving a clean energy transition based on socially owned renewable energy.

This is at best a controversial view and is not commonly held by allies in the environmental and climate justice movement. Yet, the transition to a low-carbon development path will require the building of strong labour, community and social movement alliances working together for social and environmental justice.

Join us tomorrow to debate these issues. It will be a moment to assess the outcomes of COP 27, SA’s Just Energy Transition Partnership and discuss the trajectories to a just energy transition and climate protection.

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