/ 14 March 2023

Creecy: SA must act on just energy transition or lose out on funding

Barbara Creecy
Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.

South Africa must act fast and implement the Just Energy Transition (JET) plan before competition for funds from other developing countries increases, said forestry, fisheries and environment minister Barbara Creecy.

“Now is the time that South Africa needs to demonstrate that it is able to implement its investment plan and strategy to move to cleaner energy and must ensure they do not leave anyone behind,” she said.

Creecy was speaking at the launch of the Just Transition to a Decarbonised Economy in South Africa Project, in Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

Many countries have been asking for financial help to transition to cleaner energy after money that was promised at the COP27 global climate talks in November 2022 in Egypt came through for developing nations such as South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam. Last year, Vietnam received $15 billion from Germany and France.

The United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, Norway and the European Union pledged funds in the form of loans, grants and investments.

Last month, during the State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the government had received the first tranche of the $8.5 billion from Germany and France. The funds had been transferred to the treasury.

At the launch, Creecy said the transition would see renewable energy projects in Mpumalanga funded by the money, which is to be split between Eskom, green hydrogen projects and the development of electric vehicles.

The $8.5 billion was a drop in the ocean, she said, because South Africa needed R700 billion over five years.

People must be looked after

Creecy reiterated that although the need to transition to clean energy was urgent, it had to be just and enable countries to deal with socio-economic issues, such as those affecting the lives of people living in coal mining areas.

She used Mpumalanga to illustrate the importance of coal mining to the local economy and the need for a just transition. The province is home to six of the nine Eskom coal-fired power stations scheduled to be shut down by 2035, putting up to 55 000 jobs at risk. 

“Moving to net-zero needs to address the nitty-gritties concerning workers in the province and their lives,” she said.

According to the JET plan released by the presidency on the eve of COP27, “The ageing fleet of coal power plants — totalling 39GW and averaging a lifespan of 42 years — will be retired over the next three decades, with 22GW due to be decommissioned by 2035.”

One of the problems was “the majority of the working class is the older generation, which means the integration and reskilling of these people will be unfair for them,” Creecy added.

“When the climate commission went around and asked people [in Mpumalanga] what a just [energy] transition looked like, the people said they want to be part of understanding what the problem is and they want to be part of defining the solution.

“They also said it’s not going to help them if we develop jobs in renewables or the green hydrogen value chain in the Northern Cape.They don’t even know where Boegoebaai is. They said they have jobs here [in Mpumalanga] and are not giving up their coal jobs after being told that it’s for some moral cause they’ve never heard of, leaving their families to starve.”

Crispian Olver, the executive director of the Presidential Climate Commission, said the problem was that if people did not know about or understand the JET plan, “they can derail the process and development in the province”.

He said Mpumalanga had the potential to have a green economy because of its weather. “Six and a half gigawatts can be placed in Mpumalanga, which is way better than that of Germany or Europe.”

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa