Barbara Creecy | The just transition is not just about clean energy - it must right past wrongs

Barbara Creecy  Photo: Daily Sun
Barbara Creecy Photo: Daily Sun

Access to land, food, basic services, proper health care and good education are the building blocks of a climate resilient society, says Barbara Creecy.

The Just Transition is at the core of all our work on addressing climate change in South Africa.

Through it people are put first as we reduce our greenhouse has emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The 2018 Jobs Summit was clear that the transition is happening, and if not well managed, there is a risk of it being disorderly. This will be catastrophic for workers and society. The Presidential Climate Commission therefore has a clear role to play in assisting the government with the central problem it faces.

At the South Africa’s first multi-stakeholder conference on the Just Transition, I had highlighted several priorities for the just transition to be successful.

Firstly, the transition must be procedurally just. This means that workers, communities and small businesses must be empowered and not only supported, and that they should define their own development and livelihoods in the transition. They should also incorporate their definitions in the ways government, corporates, and citizens respond.

Secondly, the transition must support an equitable sharing of risks and opportunities. As South Africa reduces emissions, there are significant opportunities to be seized in a cleaner economy.

For example, clean energy transition will also open new markets for the supply of clean energy minerals, like platinum, vanadium, cobalt, copper, manganese, and lithium. Climate-smart agriculture could create better yields and more resilient crops, improving the lives and livelihoods of farmers.

But workers and communities whose livelihoods are tied to fossil-fuel industries may be negatively impacted in the short-term. We must therefore ensure that these risks and opportunities are distributed fairly, and that those least responsible for the climate problem are supported to adapt and compensated for their losses.

Finally, the transition must be restorative. This is about moving forward constructively and together in a manner that appropriately rectifies the harms of the past. Access to land, food, basic services, proper health care and good education are the building blocks of a climate resilient society, and we cannot achieve restorative justice without a fundamental change in economic ownership patterns and power relations.

The Just Transition Framework will, therefore, provide a template for the shift, and the principles to guide us, including from the voices we don’t always hear.

There is no perfect blueprint for what this transition must look like. Indeed, many countries around the world are grappling with the same issues we are. But, from the perspective of government, we do know that the Just Transition can help to identify the opportunities presented by a net-zero economy – where we have an opportunity to grow the economy through new and better jobs. In essence, this requires of all to go beyond the management of those most impacted.

The finalisation of the Just Transition Framework and the recommendations made by the Presidential Climate Change Commission to government will be carefully considered before being incorporated into government policy and planning processes. Government will be updating the Medium Term Strategic Framework with the intention to to embed the Just Transition across all the planning processes of the different spheres of government and the budgets of national, provincial and local government.

A point to consider is that the Just Transition is not something that is happening to us, but rather a change that offers an opportunity to protect all citizens and the provide a reasonable opportunity to work, while also pursuing the opportunity of a new economy.

It will give life to the principle of procedural justice – an inclusive process to define a shared vision for a greener and more sustainable economy.

Barbara Creecy is the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. Views are her own. 

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