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16 Sep 2022

The Rainbow Nation’s Journey to an 100% Green Economy

Just Energy Transition
Natasha Van Niekerk
Just Energy Transition for South Africa

In 2015, 192 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement- a treaty that outlines the steps and commitments governments have to fulfill to reduce global carbon emissions. A major signatory was African Powerhouse- South Africa. South Africa is the world’s 13th biggest source of greenhouse gasses, and easily surpasses all other African countries as being the leading source of emission. South Africa still uses coal for
more than 80% of its energy (this number is already down from roughly 95% in early 2000s) and is both fossil-fuel rich and fossil-fuel dependent. Based on these figures, transitioning the Rainbow Nation from an almost completely coal-dependent nation to a green one is not easy. As one of Africa’s most developed and influential countries, however, it is important for South Africa to reduce its carbon emissions not only for the
sake of the Climate Crisis, but also to set an example for other developing countries in Africa as a whole. As South Africa has overcome other intense challenges in its past, fighting the Climate Crisis is a battle it can wage.

South Africa has been a coal-dependent country for many years, based on inexpensive coal resources. It is the fourth largest global exporter of coal; to this day, South Africa still uses coal-based energy to supply 80% of its electricity. These two facts help in explaining why South Africa is the World’s 12th largest emitter of CO2, and Africa’s largest emitter. Based on these facts, South African leaders have created climate policies as a means to reduce these figures Serving as a roadmap in navigating the climate crisis, the National Development Plan (NDP) is a document that guides South African leaders to create a vision which focuses on job creation, elimination of poverty, the reduction of inequality and growing an inclusive economy by 2030. As South African president Cyril Ramaphosa stated, “ Our government is promoting sustainable
development policies which seek to make significant interventions in reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality”. Further, In the 2019 SDG South African Country Report, South Africa outlined its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serve as a reminder of the successes the country has made to date/thus far, and outlines the steps it still needs to take to fight this crisis.

Amidst the many agreements, treaties and declarations signed by representatives in South Africa in order to fight the climate crisis, lies the famous COP26 agreement . COP26 is a monumental agreement signed by major governments -South Africa, the United Kingdom, US, France and Germany, etc - which outlines a partnership to support global efforts toward decarbonization, including South Africa’s heavily coal-dependent energy system. This agreement is significant in three ways.

Firstly, an initial investment of $8.5 billion dollars was put forth, showcasing the interest in such a project. Secondly, the partnership is expected to prevent up to 1-1.5 gigatonnes of emissions from South Africa over the next twenty years. Thirdly, leaders acknowledged that if such a cooperation were to be successful, this agreement would serve as a model for other countries, but specifically for other disadvantaged countries in Africa. South African President Ramaphosa fully supported this agreement by stating, “We look forward to a long term partnership that can serve as an appropriate model of support for climate action from developed to developing countries, recognizing the importance of a just transition to a low carbon, climate resilient society that promotes employment and livelihoods”. The United Kingdom’s Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson furthered this support in South Africa by stating, “This game-changing partnership will set a precedent for how countries can work together to accelerate the transition to clean, green energy and technology. President Ramaphosa has shown real leadership on this issue, and the UK is committed to working with South Africa to support a just and fair transition to renewable energy.” While the monetary funds behind COP26 are absolutely crucial and game-changing, what COP26 also shows is the advantages of international cooperation in the Climate Crisis.

Further, COP26 shows that if more countries were to work together like South Africa and its partners did towards the Climate Crisis, it is a much more effective strategy than working alone. Since 1957, when scientist Roger Revelle first realized that the ocean will not absorb all of the carbon dioxide released by humanity’s industrial, electricity and transport and related processes, and that, as a result, carbon dioxide emissions would increase significantly, we have known that the climate crisis was coming. Most of the climate problems that we are facing today could have been prevented if countries had thought ahead, if the leaders of countries had truly looked the statistics in the eyes and done what needed to be done. If they had, they would have seen that transitioning countries to a greener economy not only saves money and the environment, but it also creates more ‘green’ jobs for citizens. With an unemployment rate at an all time high of 35.3%, transitioning South Africa to a green economy can only help in addressing the lack of meaningful job opportunities. In South Africa alone, installing 5 gigawatts of renewable energy annually until 2050 would create roughly 5000 jobs a year in construction, operation and maintenance of these plants. Within South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), it outlined that South Africa will approach the climate crisis “justly”, meaning that it cares not only about addressing the climate emergency, but also about solving the economic and social problems that go along with this transition. To be ‘just’ , the transition must ensure that “ marginalized groups have equal opportunity to participate; that new jobs provide a liveable wage, safe workplaces and rights that are respected’ and that people lost in the crossfires do not become collateral damage in this process”.

If the Rainbow Nation wishes to fulfill its promises, there are three major things that need to be accomplished: 1) continue to decommission coal plants, 2) support renewable energy investments, and 3) transition skills and jobs actively toward clean energy technologies and solutions. Transitioning to a Green Economy requires a complete willingness to radically change many aspects of life, education, job creation,
health and social protection. According to a recent United Nations article on climate change, “ Transitioning to a net-zero world is one of the greatest challenges humankind has faced. It calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, consume, and move about.'' and one of the first steps to make this happen is to perform this ‘complete transformation’ on the African Powerhouse, South Africa.


This article is authored by Natasha Van Niekerk, a grade 12 student at Asheville School in Asheville, North Carolina. Natasha plans to major in International Relations and Data Science specializing in development in Francophone Africa. She comes from Pretoria, South Africa.



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