/ 28 November 2023

Unions unhappy as cabinet gives nod to energy transition plan

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The Just Energy Transition is a shift to lower carbon technologies and resources, while ensuring that society, jobs and livelihoods will not be harmed. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

South Africa’s climate plan has taken a positive step forward after the cabinet approved the Just Energy Transition Implementation Plan (JET-IP) during a recent meeting, according to Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

“The implementation plan will guide South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy through the scaling up of renewable energy sources,” Ntshavheni said during a media briefing.

She added that the JET-IP demonstrated South Africa’s commitment to a just transition in line with its energy mix.

“The JET-IP will enable South Africa to gradually meet its carbon emissions reduction commitments, while at the same time it will ensure inclusive economic growth, energy security and employment,” she said.

The JET-IP, a R1.5 trillion plan, outlines South Africa’s financial requirements from 2023 to 2027 for the purpose of decarbonising the economy. It was formulated last year by the presidential climate task team under the leadership of Daniel Mminele, who has since resigned from the position. 

The plan has finally received cabinet approval after it was officially unveiled by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the UN’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt last year.

However, unions and opposition parties have expressed objection to it because of potential job losses, particularly in Mpumalanga, where numerous communities rely on coal for their livelihood.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi condemned the approval of the JET-IP, arguing that despite vociferous objections from several key stakeholders in South African society, the government had approved a programme which would increase injustice in the country.

“We have been vehemently rejecting JET-IP since it was introduced to the public at the 2022 COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The current move by the cabinet disregards all principles related to proper, meaningful and deep consultation. 

“The cabinet’s unilateral decision also contradicts the president’s assertion and electoral mandate of developing binding social compacts,” he said.

Nkolozi added that South Africa’s de-industrialised economy cannot be developed by relying on renewable energy alone.

“We have approximately 300 years of coal reserves beneath our soil and the current impact on our communities and workers in closing coal power stations has been devastating,” he said.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has also cautioned that the transition would cripple South Africa’s coal mining sector.

Last week, after the treasury announced that it had entered into multi-year loan agreements for R34 billion to support the transition, the EFF said the loans were a strategic plan by the ANC to mire the country in debt, a move attributed to the party’s diminishing political power and control.

“South Africa does not need any loans to resolve its energy crisis. The so-called ‘just energy transition’ is nothing but a plot to undermine South African sovereignty and enable profiteering at the expense of our people,” said EFF spokesman Sinawo Thambo.

The National Union of Mineworkers has also called for additional consultations on the transition plan due to the risk it poses to about 51 000 jobs.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe recently described the plan as a “foreign concept” originating from developed nations, asserting that it does not apply to South Africa.

At an event hosted by the Black Business Council in July, he strongly criticised the pace of South Africa’s shift to renewable energy, urging the country to prioritise energy sovereignty and resist being a conduit for ideas from the developed world.

The ANC found itself divided on the issue during its 2022 policy conference, with “coal fundamentalists” opposing the transition, while others, particularly those aligned with Ramaphosa, expressed support for it.

Wealthy countries, including Germany and France, and others in the EU, the UK and the US, also known as the International Partners Group (IPG), committed $8.5 billion over three to five years to help South Africa in its transition from coal.

This year, the IPG announced that Denmark and the Netherlands had joined the agreement, elevating the commitment to $9.3 billion.

“A significant proportion of these funds are being spent on economic diversification, training and reskilling projects in Mpumalanga province, where over 85% of coal-related jobs are currently based,” the IPG said in a statement. 

In addition, the IPG has restated its dedication to aiding South Africa in its initiatives to deploy more renewables by providing funding for the transmission network expansion.

The JET-IP identifies three primary focus areas: electricity, new energy vehicles and green hydrogen, with the majority of the R1.5 trillion (approximately 80%) allocated to facilitate the transition and growth of these industries.