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INTRODUCTIONSouth Africa is a signatory to the Paris Agreement (UN, 2015) and recognizes the need to transition to a low carbon economy and climate‐resilient society. The country is currently undergoing an energy transition guided by the Just Transition Framework drafted by the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) and adopted by parliament (PCC, 2022). South Africa has also updated critical policies that enable the development of an effective climate change response in the country. These include: the amendment of the Electricity Regulation Act (Act no. 4 of 2006) to allow for uncapped power generation for independent power production (DMRE, 2022); and the revision of the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to raise South Africa's ambitions for reducing its emissions. These policy reforms have accelerated South Africa's energy transition and are clear signals of the country's ambitions to decarbonize.Another major step in South Africa's path to a just transition was the partnership deal, negotiated at COP26, known as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), with Germany, United Kingdom, France, the United States and the European Union. This partnership deal is worth 8.7 billion dollars and it aims to assist South Africa to transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy sources.South Africa's case has attracted attention globally as a model for other countries. Yet, South Africa grapples with socioeconomic challenges including inequality, unemployment and poverty which make this transition challenging and complex. For other African countries and small island states, the context may be different (transitioning away from coal or oil use) but the socioeconomic challenges are the same. Hence, the interest in South Africa: can its plan to achieve ambitious goals despite significant socioeconomic challenges succeed? If so, there is hope that many countries in the world can adopt and adapt the model.THE DAUNTING SOCIOECONOMIC CHALLENGESouth Africa recognizes that it cannot succeed in its ambition for a just transition unless significant socioeconomic issues are addressed. This means that its just energy transition plans must fully embrace a people‐centered approach that is inclusive of all citizens’ voices and searches for solutions in which all people's livelihoods are conserved.The just energy transition in South Africa needs to ensure meaningful economic growth, create much needed jobs and reduce unemployment. Green industrial development must mean not simply a shift to a low carbon energy system and economy but rather a targeted, rapid economic growth in the society's poorest communities which bear no material responsibility for the problem. The priority must be on the wellbeing of South Africa's citizens.Green industrial development achieved, for example, through rapid growth in renewable energy use can provide a gateway to reforming the current energy sector. Currently, the electricity sector leaves many in society without access to affordable and reliable services. This has led to actions by communities, in some cases desperate for electric power, to illegally appropriate service. When service is subsequently established, families with little income are hard‐pressed to pay utility bills on a regular basis. And some members ask why they must now pay for a service that was so long denied to them. This complex situation undermines energy and economic security. Obviously, shifts in technology or energy resources cannot, by themselves, effectively address the problem. In this regard, green development must reduce carbon emissions but, even more importantly, it must reduce poverty and provide a step toward rectifying a long present pattern of service inequality.Renewable energy is a gateway to facilitating energy trade across Africa and the globe through mechanisms such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and other potential agreements on a global scale (Nkhonjera, 2022). South Africa can use these mechanisms to play a bigger role on the African continent in accelerating the energy transition in Africa. South Africa is the second largest economy on the continent. It is the only African country in the G20 countries, is a member of the BRICS and G77 countries, and the current chair of the African Union. Can South Africa use its role and influence in these intergovernmental organizations to unite African countries under a vision of accelerating rapid low‐carbon development in order to mitigate climate change? Here again, the promise underlying this hopeful role for South Africa depends on its ability to champion meaningful development for its own marginalized communities (see, e.g., Lukhele & Madzivhandila, 2018) while also negotiating new investment in the new economy.The just energy transition will impact South Africa immensely. The country is one of the few in Africa, Asia or Latin America to have undergone the third industrial revolution, which led to a dramatic increase in coal use, made possible by the abundance of coal and minerals in the country. As a result, coal accounts for 74% of all commercial energy use and 87% of its electricity generation (see Figure 1; Burton et al., 2022; Climate Transparency, 2021). Compounding the challenge to “green” its energy system is the country's own energy crisis, with frequent outages. These are due in part to the advancing age of South Africa's coal‐powered plants which are being used past their expected lifespan, while some newly opened plants have performed badly due to poor construction.1FIGURESouth Africa's total primary energy supply (left) and share of electricity production (right) (Burton et al., 2022; Climate Transparency, 2021). *Hydro includes pumped storage.A KEY HOPE DRIVING SOUTH AFRICA'S JUST ENERGY TRANSITIONGreen industrial development anchored by renewable energy is possible from a resource perspective, due to South Africa's sizable wind and solar endowments. South Africa's direct solar radiation levels range on average between 4.5 and 6.5 kWh/m2 per day, placing it in the top three countries in the world (Department of Energy, 2015). The technologies to convert wind and solar energy are now high‐performing, affordable for many uses and can be constructed quickly to meet demand (a key advantage to address the problem of outages, especially at peak hours of electricity demand; Winkler, 2022, The Conversation). Shifting to the new resource base can allow South Africa to restructure its current economy built around cheap electricity from coal. Replacing this mineral energy complex with a “green” one, could allow market strategies and development planning to “leapfrog” over an aging industrial infrastructure to what some are touting as a 6th wave of innovation based on sustainability principles and technological infrastructures which would enable electro‐mobility, smart cities and hydrogen‐based production (Newman, 2020).The cost of renewable energy is already falling, and South Africa needs to add more power quickly to in order to curb ongoing power outages. These outages have detrimental impacts on the economy including disruption to business operations which has resulted in job losses. Can South Africa find an effective long‐term solution to the country's energy crisis while delivering economic growth and being responsive to the climate change crisis?The just energy transition adopted by South Africa underscores an opportunity to leverage its renewable energy endowment and its mineral endowment which includes the platinum group metals that are essential for green hydrogen production. Historically, the African continent's resources are mined and exported to benefit other countries’ development. South Africa has the opportunity to reset this trend and achieve green industrialization through value addition to minerals, and exporting technological products for the low carbon economy such as green hydrogen and hybrid vehicles. Will South Africa finally be able to benefit from its mineral wealth and lift the so‐called resource curse suffered during the third revolution?For South Africa to succeed, investments and concessional funding are needed. In this vein, the Just Energy Transition Partnership: this is unique globally and will provide South Africa with the much‐needed finance for the country's energy transition. In response to the JETP, a Presidential Climate Finance task team was appointed to detail the investment portfolio needed for the partnership to meet its goals. This portfolio was presented at COP27. It indicates that South Africa requires 1.48 trillion rands (98 billion US dollars) in concessional loans and grants for the transition (The Presidency, 2022). The JETP has attracted international interest with many countries keenly watching whether South Africa will set a precedent for how to negotiate such arrangements and utilize international climate resources to support a just transition.However, there must be a clear understanding of how and by whom this funding will be accessed; its quantity (amount of flows) and quality (access, design, and implementation modalities) (Mminele, 2022). South Africa also struggles with corruption and misuse of funds, hence to ensure trust from the partners, fund management needs to be clearly defined, monitored and its performance verified.Historically, wealthy countries have failed to fulfill international pledges, including in the area of climate finance. For example, the 100 billion dollars (USD) climate investment pledge per year by 2020 promised at COP15 to help developing countries lower their emissions, has not been fulfilled. How is South Africa to trust the JETP as a planning and finance partner in the face of a record of unmet promises? How will financing commitments be enforced and by whom? The JETP pledge falls short of the required 1.5 trillion rands (98 billion US dollars) needed to realize the desired transition in a 5‐year period. An additional problem is that the partnership pledge focuses largely on changing energy sector reliance on coal. Left out of the discussion is the just development component stressed by South Africa if an energy transition is to be realized. Avoiding the socioeconomic challenge discussed above threatens the very possibility of any transition. There must be transparency regarding the just development goal and this requires explicit investment from the outset. JETP investment must truly reflect South Africa's special needs and our partners’ commitment to helping the country to address them.For South Africa, a just energy transition is much needed and it represents unchartered territory: there is no policy map—one must be made and implemented … quickly. As the editors of this journal have observed, climate change is occurring at a much faster pace than the reported science (Byrne et al., 2022; Lund & Byrne, 2020). This has serious consequences globally and even more so for the African continent. Transdisciplinary approaches in policy, economics, energy and climate change research are necessary to offer direction and clarity on what achieving meaningful economic growth may look like for Africa, Asia and Latin America in the face of growing climate change impacts. A suitable energy transition for South Africa addresses its ongoing energy and development crises. If a transparent strategy can be achieved through the partnership between South Africa and Germany, United Kingdom, France, the United States, and the European Union, our hope for producing a just transition model for all countries can become a practical one.Can we meet the challenge? In time?AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONSNqobile Xaba: Conceptualization (equal); writing – original draft (equal); writing – review and editing (equal).CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENTThe author has declared no conflicts of interest for this article.DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENTNot applicable.RELATED WIREs ARTICLESClean energy transition‐our urgent challenge: An editorial assayPerspectives of energy transitions in East and Southeast AsiaFURTHER READINGDepartment of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE). (2021). The Climate Change Bill (Gazette No. 45299, Republic of South Africa). https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/202203/b9-2022.pdfNaidoo, C. (2022). South Africa's smoke signals for financing the just energy transition. In N. Xaba & S. Fakir (Eds.), A just transition to a low carbon future in South Africa. Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.Xaba, N., & Fakir, S. (Eds.). (2022). A just transition to a low carbon future in South Africa. Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.REFERENCESBurton, J., Baker, L., Marquard, A., & Lehmann‐Grube, P. (2022). From MEC to net‐zero: The role of the energy sector in the just transition. In N. Xaba & S. Fakir (Eds.), A just transition to a low carbon future in South Africa. Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.Byrne, J., Lund, P., & Taminiau, J. (2022). Rapid climate transformation requires transformative policy and science thinking‐ an editorial essay. WIREs Energy and Environment, 11, 428.Climate Transparency. (2021). Climate transparency report: Comparing G20 climate action towards net zero: South Africa 2021. https://www.climate-transparency.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/CT2021SouthAfrica.pdf#page=8Department of Energy (DoE). (2015). State of renewable energy in South Africa. https://www.energy.gov.za/files/media/pub/state-of-renewable-energy-in-south-africa.pdfDepartment of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). (2022). Electricity Regulation Act 2006 (No. 45898, Republic of South Africa). https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/202203/45898gon1746.pdfLukhele, T., & Madzivhandila, T. (2018). The dilemma between the pro‐market and the pro‐poor local economic development approaches in the democratic South Africa: Theoretical perspective. Local Economy: The Journal of the Local Economy Policy Unit, 33(8), 877–888. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269094218799Lund, P. D., & Byrne, J. (2020). Little time left to reverse the emissions—Growing hope despite disappointing CO2 trend. WIREs Energy and Environment, 9, 369.Mminele, D. (2022, May 9). Keynote address at the Policy Discussion on Just Transition Finance. Convened by MISTRA.Newman, P. (2020). Covid, cities and climate: Historical precedents and potential transitions for the new economy. Urban Science, 4, 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/urbansci4030032Nkhonjera, M. (2022). Green industrial development under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Positioning South Africa's renewable energy manufacturing. In N. Xaba & S. Fakir (Eds.), A just transition to a low carbon future in South Africa. Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.Presidential Climate Commission. (2022). A framework for just transition in South Africa. https://pccommissionflow.imgix.net/uploads/images/A-Just-Transition-Framework-for-South-Africa-2022.pdfThe Presidency. (2022). South Africa's just energy transition investment plan (JET IP). https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/content/south-africa%27s-just-energy-transition-investment-plan-jet-ip-2023-2027United Nations (UN). (2015). The Paris Agreement. 2016. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreementWinkler, H. (2022, July 12). South Africa could produce a lot more renewable energy: Here's what it needs. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/south-africa-could-produce-a-lot-more-renewable-energy-heres-what-it-needs-185897
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Energy and Environment – Wiley
Published: Sep 1, 2023
Keywords: climate resilience; energy transition; low carbon economy; South Africa
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