Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has said a just transition is about improving the lives and livelihoods of all South Africans, particularly those that are bearing the brunt of climate impacts, and protecting and empowering workers and communities, as the country navigates the shift away from fossil fuels.
Speaking during the Presidential Climate Commission multistakeholder conference on May 5, he said climate change posed a burden to the economy and South Africa's people, who lived in one of the most affected regions in the world, and frequently experienced droughts, storms and floods associated with global warming.
"Disasters like the devastating flooding in KwaZulu-Natal remind us that it is poorer communities, women and young people, the unemployed and those living in informal settlements, who are most vulnerable to climate change.
“We must protect these communities from further devastation, through properly planned settlements, and affordable and safe housing," Mbalula said.
Further, South Africa must continue to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, through early warning systems, stronger infrastructure and disaster risk management systems.
It is similarly imperative that the country builds back from the catastrophic events in KwaZulu-Natal in a climate-resilient way.
"Our social and economic infrastructure must be made climate-resilient in a systematic and forward-looking manner. A just transition is about addressing climate change while solving our triple challenges, namely reducing inequality, eliminating poverty and creating new employment opportunities. This is what a just and equitable climate response looks like," he emphasised.
"The science is clear that climate change is happening at an accelerated pace, with profound implications on all aspects of our lives, on rainfall patterns, water resources, crop viability, food security and human health, among others.
"The science is also clear that we must keep global warming below 1.5 °C [above preindustrial levels], if we want to avoid the worst of climate impacts. To do so, we must reduce greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically over the next three decades to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century," he stated.
Further, developed countries have contributed the lion’s share to historical emissions and bear the responsibility of reducing emissions first.
"But we will also need to play our part. If we don’t, we will miss out on the opportunities of a greener, more inclusive, and more sustainable economy, and we will face increasing economic risks, as the world shifts demand to low-emissions goods and services."
The transition will require profound and systemic change across all sectors of the economy. South Africa must decarbonise its electricity grid and modernise the electricity system.
"We must continue to bring more renewable energy capacity online as our cheapest available energy source, and as part of a long-term shift towards a renewables-based power system," he added.
South Africa needs to install about 3 GW to 4 GW of renewable energy a year over the next 30 years. At this pace, it can generate sufficient economies of scale for local manufacturers to produce the components for wind and solar plants and utility-scale batteries.
"This manufacturing can create real jobs, not just intermittent jobs in the installation and construction, but decent permanent jobs linked to large scale manufacturing. We must invest in peaking power to provide the energy security that our country so desperately needs," Mbalula said.
South Africa must also continue to phase out coal in a manner that is carefully structured and planned. This means repurposing and repowering existing coal plants, and creating new livelihoods for those workers and communities most impacted by the change.
"Further, we must equip our automotive industry for the new opportunities of a cleaner transport system, including electric vehicles. We must similarly ensure that our agriculture sector is resilient to the impacts of climate change, empowering the farmers and farm workers at the same time," he said.
South Africa needs a systemic change to ensure an affordable and reliable electricity supply for all citizens and to stimulate greater investment and employment in the country, he emphasised.
This systemic change is also needed to create new industrial pathways, to equip the nation for a greener and more sustainable future, and to seize the opportunities and manage the risks from the transition that lies ahead; we know that we will need support, including from our people, from our businesses, from all levels of government and from other nations.
"We will need public and private finance, from both domestic and international sources. We will need to invest in projects that accelerate a low-emissions and climate-resilient transition, while ameliorating the negative impacts on workers and communities whose livelihoods are tied to high-emitting industries," Mbalula added.
Further, resources must be also channelled towards reskilling and early technology development and deployment to set South Africa and South African workers on a just transition pathway.
"The transition will require large-scale shifts within our domestic financial system to mobilise public and private capital for the transition, including by strengthening regulation and institutional arrangements, partnering with the public sector for delivery, and attracting capital into new markets, technologies, business models and small and medium-sized enterprises.
"To support these shifts, the National Treasury has committed to integrate the just transition imperative into the national fiscal framework and budget planning process.
"We are mindful of our fiscal constraints, we are committed to the just transition, but we are pleased that the National Treasury has been engaged with issues related to sustainable financing, pointing to the need for all climate finance to also contribute to the achievement of our national development goals," Mbalula said.
Further, Treasury has recently launched a Green Finance Taxonomy, which will encourage disclosure and monitoring from various organisations and sectors so that government can monitor all aspects of progress towards meeting the country's just transition goals.
South Africa will also seek to ensure that there is a sustainable financing mechanism for a pipeline of just transition projects, he said.
"Renewable energy production will make electricity cheaper and more dependable, which will have positive knock-on effects on our energy-dependent economic sectors, including mining, cement and manufacturing."
Further, investments in electric vehicles and green hydrogen will equip South Africa to meet the global clean energy future. This will open new markets for the supply of clean energy minerals such as platinum, vanadium, cobalt, copper, manganese and lithium.
"We will continue to provide support towards realising a positive outcome at COP27, as the contours of the partnership are finalised. The climate transition must work for everyone who is affected by it and we know that the changes that lie ahead will be difficult for some," said Mbalula.
Wealthy nations and citizens have the resources to adapt, but it is those who are most vulnerable, namely the unemployed, those living in informal settlements, rural subsistence farmers, women, and young people, who will face the greatest difficulty in adapting to changes that lie ahead.
"Developing our people and their livelihoods is the best way to build our resilience. We must ensure that everyone is supported to transition to new employment or livelihoods and provided the necessary social support mechanisms to do so.
“The Just Transition Framework is a critical planning tool, and an early milestone that will give effect to an equitable transition in South Africa.
"Finding common ground on this plan is possible, but will require sincere commitment by all social partners. We cannot afford to get this wrong. The risks are too great for our people, for our climate, and for our future economic competitiveness," he emphasised.