/ 29 September 2021

Climate envoys visit South Africa to plan for the end of coal ahead of COP26

Coalface: Countries around the world are finding ways to assist coal workers transition into other jobs. South Africa’s government and unions haven’t come up with a plan. Photo: Vincent Mundy/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Coalface: Countries around the world are finding ways to assist coal workers transition into other jobs. (Vincent Mundy/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Climate envoys from the UK, US, France, Germany and the EU are in South Africa to discuss a possible coal retirement plan. 

Eskom is scrambling to find the finance needed to transition away from coal with global finance facilities making climate change policy part of their concessional loan conditions. 

On Monday, the African Development Bank (AfDB) said that it had met with US climate envoy John Kerry to discuss Africa’s climate emergency, preparations for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) and how the US can help close the annual $27-billion climate finance gap for Africa.

US President Joseph Biden has doubled the US government’s contribution to climate finance to $11.4-billion a year by 2024 while the AfDB has doubled its own climate finance to $25-billion by 2025. 

“It is time to move from billions to trillions of dollars of investments in climate financing to build Africa’s resilience,and the private sector must play a much larger role,” said AfDB president Dr Akinwumi Adesina.

Kerry’s deputy, Jonathan Pershing arrived for a 10day African tour on Tuesday and is set to visit South Africa, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal to “meet with national and African Union counterparts, civil society, private sector, and other representatives of donor countries and financial institutions on efforts to address the climate crisis and raise global climate ambition ahead of COP26,” among other things.

Meanwhile President Cyril Ramaphosa’s climate commission is holding hearings into the country’s energy transition.

In the commission’s first technical report on making South Africa’s transition “just”, the commission said its work will provide an evidence-based foundation for a new framework for a just transition.

“The review ultimately recommends that the just transition vision adopted for South Africa is one that builds on existing (and extensive) consultation processes, particularly those established by the National Planning Commission and for the Climate Change Bill, but with a greater emphasis on social justice and a clearly defined endpoint: net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050,” the commission said.

It draws on the International Labour Organisation’s vision for a just energy transition which states that: “The transition, if planned in a just manner, is envisioned to present opportunities to attend to social objectives and be a net generator of decent and green jobs that substantially attend to poverty eradication and social inclusion.”

During hearings into the impact of the transition on the coal value chain, labour unions affiliated to Cosatu called for training and development for new forms of energy and to build a manufacturing sector that owns the process and is inclusive.

Commissioners meanwhile emphasised that avoiding the creation of “ghost towns” in the coal regions must be a common goal in the transition policy.

Dr. Neva Makgetla, from the research NGO Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies, noted that the governance arrangements for the coal value chain are, “fragmented adding to the challenges to creating sector wide change”. 

Cabinet passed both the climate change bill and the country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC), an international, legally binding agreement between world leaders to act on climate change by stopping greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the panet. 

The approved NDC is higher than previously tabled, following recommendations by the presidential climate change coordinating commission.

“South Africa’s plan places a much-needed emphasis on ensuring that everyone benefits in a shift to a more sustainable economy, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities, while also ensuring a just transition for workers,” said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute.

The new target makes South Africa one of the few that is aligned to limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

New research from the University of Pretoria has found that South Africa is breaking more maximum temperature records than expected, with its climate “becoming more extreme”.