/ 14 April 2023

Gordhan calls for just energy transition plan to be adjusted

Pravin Gordhan 0172 Dv
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has called on the government to revise the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET-IP), presented to world leaders last year at the Conference of Parties 28, to adjust to South Africa’s economic reality.

He was speaking during a panel discussion about the country’s electricity crisis hosted by the Presidential Climate Commission National Colloquium on South Africa’s long-term electricity planning and the Just Energy Transition on Friday

Gordhan said although it was important to address climate change realities, it had to be done at a pace that allowed for the country’s energy problems. 

He called out the hypocrisy by European nations who were using coal and other fossil fuels to stabilise their energy grids but expected developing countries to let go of fossil fuels.

“Europe is doing something and expecting us to act differently; the new global reality says, ‘Do as I say and not as I do,’ and South Africa needs to decide what our reality is and if we continue to listen to the West,” he said.

Not on the West’s terms

Gordhan said the West needs to ensure that it provides the funding developing countries need to transition to cleaner, sustainable energy without being overburdened by debt.

“South Africa does not have capacity to fund all the transition that needs to take place; the wealthy countries need to keep their promises,” he said.

He added that a new global reality is arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and European countries are adjusting their plans regarding shifting away from fossil fuels, yet want to dictate how South Africa should implement the just energy transition.

“The reality is that the war has changed the energy scenario. It has changed the pathways [and] we have to take that reality into account as we map out the JET pathway in South Africa,” he said.

He added that the JET-IP needs to create a clear route to energy security and addressing  load-shedding.

“We need to, at all stages, continue to keep in mind how we are going to meet the energy requirements for both our citizens and small and big businesses. [We need to] take into account the current Eskom reality that it cannot … seem to consistently produce more than 23 000 megawatts, whereas the demand is closer to 30 000 megawatts and beyond almost every single day during peak hours.

“The IRP 19 [Integrated Resource Plan 2019] needs to be modified so that we take into account these new realities. Perhaps the most urgent thing is how … we get the quickest input of new megawatts into our system. Without 4 000 to 6 000 more megawatts availability of new energy, as urgently as possible, we’re not going to cope with the immediate requirements.”

Energy shortage

Gordhan added that Eskom has a shortage of six to 10 megawatts that are needed daily and are participating in the discussion of how to close the gap that renewable energy is currently not able to cover.

He said the new electricity minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, is looking at ways to cover the gap because “without the 5 to 10 megawatts, we are not going to cope with the pressure on the grid”.

South Africa is enduring another bout of stage six load-shedding. The persistent blackouts are at the heart of the country’s economic woes and limiting growth.

Business Unity South Africa representative Happy Nkambule argued that although the realities of the country may not be supportive, it is important to take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to South Africa or risk falling behind.

He added that implementing the plans that already exist is crucial to building trust in the public and private sectors so that there is clarity that a solution exists.

“Implement the plans that already exist, not having new ones if we want to see a change,” Nkambule said.

Building trust

Responding to the trust factor, Barbara Creecy, forestry, fisheries and the environment minister, said for the country to have a Just Transition, there must be consultation between policymakers to remove the trust deficit. This consultation, she said, must be inclusive by prioritising localisation and empowering South Africans first before importing experts to bring solutions.

She added that the 2015 Paris Agreement says the developed countries have a responsibility to finance the energy transitions in developing countries.

“The origins of the JET investment plans … come from the offer that was made by some of the developed countries at COP26 [Conference of Parties in Scotland in 2021] to provide financing for the start of the transition in South Africa,” she said.

Creecy said this financing must benefit all South Africans and that no one must be left behind as South Africa shifts towards low carbon emissions.

“There are those who are outside of the existing system. Those who are workers and communities in the coal value chain; those are subsistence agriculturalists, women and their families. All of those sections of our society that are going to be impacted by climate change and who are going to carry the risks of the transition,” she said.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s Riefda Ajam argued that the government was leading the country blindly and as spectators. “We are not spectators, we need to have the trust factor resolved. When dealing with trust we did not have the insight of the JET-IP programme before it was presented to the world leaders,” she said.

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