South Africa’s Just Energy Transition (JET) and Investment Plan are paving the way for the shift to renewables in the Global South. Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism’s #PowerTracker platform and investigations interrogates the JET roll-out by focusing on Mpumalanga, where most coal mines and power stations are. The series comprises hard investigations that track financial flows of renewable energy projects. The stories cover a range of impacts — such as consequences to labour rights, the coal lobby’s pushback and the risk of stranded assets — that the green shift will have on the economy. The series has an accountability focus on how local authorities are implementing the JET plan. It shows that without journalistic interrogation, the renewables revolution could become another vehicle for bureaucracy, broken promises and corruption. Each investigation marries on-the-ground reportage with multimedia content that gives a voice to the people. The confusion and uncertainty about the JET has left many communities resistant and angry, particularly in the coalfields. We included them in the discussions, leading up to a public webinar attended by authorities and the Presidential Climate Commission. Each investigation has verified data sets linked to the stories, as well as data entries liberated on the #PowerTracking mapping platform. This data provides an unparalleled view of whether Mpumalanga, and South Africa, is succeeding or failing in its ambitions to meet its international climate change commitments. The project has mapped 104 renewable energy projects and information on 12 coal power plants being decommissioned. Users can find information on the different types of renewable energy projects, ownership, financing and environmental and social impacts on a single platform.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
Producing pioneering investigative environmental journalism and data-driven geojournalism tools over the past decade. #PowerTracker is one example of this pioneering work (see https://oxpeckers.org/2023/11/powertracker-digs-deep/)
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
Our #PowerTracker project (https://oxpeckers.org/powertracker/) and series of investigations, under the banner “Reporting South Africa’s Renewables Revolution”, examines the Just Energy Transition roll-out by focusing on Mpumalanga, which is the heart of the success or failure of the country’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. If Mpumalanga fails, the rest of the country fails.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
Energy security is the biggest challenge for South Africans; ensuring that the transition to renewable sources succeeds for its people and the planet is imperative.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
If South Africa’s environment heroes do not succeed in achieving a just energy transition (JET), and swiftly, the future will be bleak. Climate change and extreme weather events will increase, with socio-economic impacts for all. Part of our mission is to encourage environmental heroes who are making a positive contribution to the JET, and to expose those who stand in its way — under the rubric, Green for good or greed?