On Tuesday evening, a panel of experts came together to put an important topic back at the top of the agenda –how to ensure women are part of the just transition to green energy. Perhaps the most powerful statement was made by Akhona Xotyeni, climate researcher and Just Green Transition Youth ambassador for the Royal Danish embassy in South Africa. She said that every generation has a struggle to overcome, and her generation has been confronted by the climate crisis: “This is not something that will come. It is here.”
Reiterating the urgency of discussions such as this one, Raul de Luzenberger, the deputy ambassador of the EU delegation to South Africa, said: “The topic is mission critical.”
The term ‘just transition’ is understood to mean that the concerns of those working in the fossil fuel industries who risk losing their jobs are addressed, and plans will be made to include them in the move to renewable energy. It has expanded to encompass all moves from extractive economies to regenerative, or circular, economies. “The climate crisis is upon us and in many ways the climate crisis magnifies inequality and hardship,” De Luzenberger said.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the former executive director of UN Women and founder of the Umlambo Foundation, agreed with De Luzenberger.
Drawing on her global experience of the crisis, she said: “The climate challenge is a frightening phenomenon for the world and particularly for the poor, who can’t survive the shocks it brings. The global governance that oversees climate justice tends to be exclusive.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka named a number of recent agreements – ranging from the Paris Agreement to those covering biodiversity, reforestation and water conservation – and said they all had one thing in common: “Women are underrepresented. Those who make inputs into these agreements do not walk in the shoes of the women who will suffer most.”
Makoma Lekalakala, director of the Johannesburg branch of Earthlife Africa, made a clear distinction between the inclusion and the involvement of women in the just transition. She said that too many of the agreements that had been ratified “lack the participation of women. Class, race and age will determine how the effects of climate change will be felt.”
Earthlife ensures that women are involved by using a mentoring system that is part of the fabric of all our lives – “our mentors are our mothers and our aunts” – and they draw on their ancient wisdom to find solutions that make adaptation to the climate challenge effective in their specific communities.
Lekalakala and Liz McDaid were awarded the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for the African region for their work on using the courts to stop a Russia-South Africa nuclear deal in 2017. Lekalakala has found effective ways for women to be heard.
Mercia Grimbeek, chairperson of SA Wind Energy Association and director of projects at Enertrag, said that corporates involved in the transition needed to stop making assumptions about the communities where they operated. They should start adapting their recruitment policies to enable participation by women particularly.
Grimbeek added: “We need to entice women and make them think, ‘I can do this’. We need to stop thinking of women as social workers and admin staff.”
She also talked about the importance of mentorship, and this tied in to the issue Xotyeni said was most pressing. Young black women needed more opportunities to share their solutions and challenges, she said.
“However, we are struggling to infiltrate the current political structures,” she added.
Brieuc Posnic and Teresa Aristegui, who deal with just transition issues at the Directorate-General for Energy of the European Commission, joined the discussion to share lessons learnt from Europe’s transition, which has been ongoing for decades.
Posnic said that they had compiled a list of dos and don’ts over the years.
Chief among them was that “we need to have a plan that comes from the community. Unplanned transitions result in unresolved socioeconomic issues”. Aristegui added that good planning and good engagement with communities were the most important elements for success.
Posnic also said that this transition offered the opportunity to intervene in socioeconomic ills such as gender inequality. The transition to a more regenerative economy is coming fast for South Africa.
Organisations such as the Umlambo Foundation promote content such as climate challenge mitigation in schools. Activists such as Lekalakala have already found effective ways to make sure women are involved enough to stand up, be heard and ask the hard questions.
Grimbeek and other women in renewable energy businesses understand how important meaningful community participation is. And young climate advisers such as Xotyeni understand the intersectionality of the climate crisis. It is clear we already have many working pathways to solutions that involve women; they simply need to be proliferated, amplified and accelerated.
This webinar was sponsored by the EU delegation to SA.
This post and content was produced in partnership with the EU delegation to SA.