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A just transition to a climate resilient economy and ecologically sustainable society

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The South Africa Climate Action Network (SACAN) is driving climate justice through multi-stakeholder relationships that aim to build a society based on clean, just and renewable energy — and social justice.

Neoka Naidoo

On Monday 13 September 2021, SACAN and the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) hosted a webinar engagement with community stakeholders across the country in an effort to bring public voices to the forefront of dialogue on a just climate transition. 

The webinar began with Neoka Naidoo, Director: Climate Change Specialist at the PCC, who presented the goals and objectives of the Commission. Working to build a low carbon, climate resilient economy and society requires pathways for financial sustainability, green technologies, the creation of jobs, and monitoring and reviewing the Climate Bill.

The Commission has so far put forward recommendations on South Africa’s draft updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which was submitted to the Presidency in July of this year, and is in the process of developing a Just Transition Framework to guide planning processes around climate transition.

A “just transition” combines a decent work agenda, poverty eradication and environmental sustainability with social consensus, worker rights, gender inclusivity and policy coherence in accordance with local contexts. 

Mdu Tshabalala

The National Planning Commission advocates for poor and vulnerable people to be at the centre of the transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. For this to be achieved, energy must be made affordable, decentralised and diversely-owned. This includes the conservation of natural resources, equitable access to water resources, and sustainable and equitable inclusive land-use.

Naidoo said: “All definitions acknowledge pathways to a lower carbon economy and society, with support channeled to vulnerable stakeholders.”

The problem arises when reaching consensus on the definition of a just transition. There’s many aspects to consider, such as who constitutes the “vulnerable” (workers, communities and small businesses), the level of transformation (regional, sectorial, economy-wide), and inclusivity in representation and structures.

Some definitions draw upon various elements of justice, including procedural, distributive and restorative justice that ensure there is inclusivity in decision-making, distribution of resources across society and compensation for impacted groups.

Sandile Nombeni

This divergence necessitates building a social compact between various individuals and groups on issues of ambition, economy, governance, land use, energy and water. The PCC “aims to solicit stakeholder inputs about a just transition, build social trust and understanding between parties, and broker a social consensus regarding principal elements of a just transition”.

Key to developing the PCC framework for a just transition is holding policy dialogues to engage with stakeholder communities. 

Melissa Fourie, the commissioner of the PCC, said the just transition is a “dynamic process” in constant development with civil society organisations. It is of vital importance to understand key decisions made on this path as they have far-reaching implications, especially for stakeholders with less power to influence governance and policy. 

Wendy Pekeur

These dialogues seek to understand the depth and expertise of the lived experiences of the people involved in the value chain so that their contributions can be incorporated into strategic planning for a just transition.

This process involved the secretariat of SACAN and the Commission brokering agreements with local community leaders from across the country to develop a framework for a new, sustainable energy system to replace the current system based on fossil fuels. 

Gabriel Kiaasen, community member and participant, said: “The youth don’t necessarily know what their role is in the just transition. Going forward, we need to have similar engagement with young people and include women and people with disabilities, as there is a sense of urgency to move on from engagement to concrete action.”

Sabatini Motloung, chairperson of SACAN and member of the Community Empowerment Committee in Ekurhuleni, said that a realistic framework must be executed that includes the participation of women and young people, as women bear the brunt of climate change. 

“Living in a post-mining area, the view is that we are not directly affected by climate change. This is false, because land in post-mining areas is barren and cannot be used for building houses or growing crops,” said Moutloung.

Mamosweu Tsoabi

She said: “We need to reach out to every community swiftly and educate them on how climate change affects them. How can we intervene on such issues when the communities themselves don’t understand the policies and laws around climate change?”

With the help of policy interventions from local communities, the organisation can ensure that every piece of information about climate change and moving towards a just transition is shared in a way that is accessible. Community insights are then shared in policy frameworks that can adequately represent the people on the ground.

Multiple participants raised the issue of making these engagements accommodating to each community by ensuring that the content is language-friendly and free of jargon that tends to lose the people it is meant to communicate to. 

Wendy Pekeur from the Northern Cape called attention to the environmental, economic and health impacts of mining and power plants. 

“There is a severe drought in the Northern Cape. We cannot plant crops and so our  dying. edgdvsfWhat is the redress for these communities when these big companies leave after having extracted so much from the earth? They make so much money without anyone holding them accountable,” said Pekeur.

Sandile Nombeni from 360 Degrees Environmental Organisation and South African Water Caucus said there is division among communities affected by climate change.

Sabatini Motloung

 “The government tries to divide and rule us. As the Commission, we need to find out how to bring in the business sector to identify themselves with communities at the end of the day,” said Nombeni.

Mduduzi Tshabalala is from a community of farming people in Waterdal who have been affected by the water crisis for the past 20 years. “Water is part and parcel of our struggle against climate change. Our garden is so dry at the beginning of the season. We hardly have water, yet the relevant departments giving licenses to mines continue as if we have not been talking,” said Tshabalala.

The communities of Waterdal and Rasterval are deeply affected by the Springfield coal mine. “With me sitting 15 km away I will be affected. Where will the mine get their water?” he said.

Nombeni said: “On a municipal level, the government is not doing anything other than what the Climate Commission has put forward. The government benefits from the global finance fund, but in our meetings for budgetary plans those funds are diverted and end up not serving the same people they are supposed to. “

Dr Crispian Olver

Mamosweu Tsoabi said the community of Marapeng uses renewable energy made from cooking bags. They teach women how to reuse carbon and create methane gas in a biogas digester: “We know what we want and know how things are done. We have skills on how to design biogas digesters. All we need are the resources.”

Activist, author and public policy expert Dr Crispian Olver said the policy dialogues bring forth a “granular feel of what people on the ground are grappling with across the climate and development nexus”. 

“The voices of the marginalised must be heard, otherwise you are going to get a solution that is mitigated by those who have a say,” said Olver.

Thando Lukuko, the convenor of the policy dialogue, noted the overall sentiment of the Commission: “We are all bound together by the same goal. We have different perspectives on how to get there but it is important to dialogue to find common ground on how to get to that future. SACAN commits to help wherever we can.”

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