COP Billions: Germans warn lack of civil society participation bad news for global energy transition

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Environmental, social and governance standards come into play as pressure mounts to curb emissions and work towards a cleaner world. (Picture: iStock)
Environmental, social and governance standards come into play as pressure mounts to curb emissions and work towards a cleaner world. (Picture: iStock)
  • A policy document released by Germanwatch and Power Shift Africa warns of the dangers of a lack of civic engagements in the Just Energy Transition Partnership and the consequences it could have for the rest of the world.
  • Last year, South Africa made world headlines when several countries, including Germany, pledged $8.5 billion to assist it in decarbonising its economy. 
  • "Insufficient community and civil society involvement and engagement, and lack of transparency or coordination, would leave the JETP at significant risk of lacking support, legitimacy, and ultimately effectiveness," the paper said.

A lack of engagement with civil society in South Africa's Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) could mean disaster for not only the country, but the world's coal-to-clean transition, a policy brief by Germanwatch and Power Shift Africa warns.

The work of the JETP - a long-term partnership of the International Partner Group (IPG) between the governments of South Africa, France, the UK, European Union, US and Germany - concerns efforts to transition South Africa's economy towards cleaner energy sources, focusing on the electricity system and helping it achieve the emissions goal in the Nationally Determined Contribution.

The IPG made headlines when it announced the mobilisation of at least $8.5 billion over the next three to five years to achieve these goals.

Power Shift Africa, based in Kenya, aims to mobilise climate action in Africa, while Germanwatch, an NPO founded in Germany, focuses on policy and international relations. Germany has pledged $800 million to the initial $8.5 billion to further South Africa's JETP.

If successful, the JETP could spell a new model for international cooperation on climate action with global implications for the future of other countries' transitions.

Civil society organisations, who spoke to News24 echoed the sentiments of the paper, saying engagements so far have been limited and exclusionary.

READ | Ramaphosa's full speech on plans to fix SA's energy crisis

This could impact a just transition, they added.

So far, the process is at risk as no civil society groups are involved in any JETP task team, which cut across finance, implementation, the power sector, green hydrogen and transport. These working groups provide critical expertise which will inform the JETP investment package.

The lack of civil society participation could spell disaster for the entire transition.

"Insufficient community and civil society involvement and engagement, and lack of transparency or coordination, would leave the JETP at significant risk of lacking support, legitimacy, and ultimately effectiveness.

"But progress in South Africa towards meaningful engagement with civil society and community stakeholders could unlock a just coal-to-clean transition model for the world.

"If South Africa's JETP is successful, it could provide a basis for similar approaches in other developing countries and middle-income economies. However, failure would send the opposite message," the brief said.

Just Partnership

  • South Africa is the world's seventh largest coal producer, with 125 000 people directly employed in the coal value chain.
  • South Africa is the world's most carbon-intensive producer and the most coal-intensive economy of the G20.
  • The South Africa JETP is also concerned with ensuring that actions to decarbonise SA's electricity sector support just transition interventions and the inclusive and equitable transition for workers and vulnerable communities.
  • Projects included in a just transition must focus on rehabilitating local areas to guarantee livable conditions and support community economic activities.

So far, details on the JETP are scant as governance structures have ensured information is confidential from civil society and the public.

The paper said recommendations for implementing a just transition mainly related to Eskom and less on donors or plans for the billions.

"The lack of available information on the details of the JETP is creating distrust between civil society and the government. This distrust is exacerbated by an ongoing battle over the future roles of renewables and fossil fuels within the government.

"Thus, the inadequate engagement of civil society has raised questions around issues of transparency, equitable access, and accountability. There is a need to share information on the JETP stakeholders, especially with civil society," the paper said.

READ | Ramaphosa’s big energy plan lacks detail - economist

Consultations with civil society have been limited to those with the Presidential Climate Change Commission (PCCC), which engages with organisations on behalf of the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team (PCFTT).

The PCTFF is the counterpart of the IPG, reporting directly to an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the president. The PCFTT oversees the development of financing mechanisms and facilities that will enable the flow of international finances to South Africa.

Liz McDaid, a strategic leader at the Green Connection which aims to empower people to participate in decision-making about the environment, said while the PCCC held engagements with civil society, these were limited.

McDaid told News24:

It's a huge problem, particularly because topics like Boegoebaai are on the agenda. There seems to be an impression in the country, at the moment, that it's just business and government and everything is fine, but we strongly disagree with that.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has positioned Boegoebaai in the Northern Cape as South Africa's next major export hub for green hydrogen.

McDaid said this could be an example of decisions made as part of the JETP about people on the ground in the area without their consultation.

"There are plans to place a huge harbour there which would destroy the coastline upon which they depend – how can that happen without their consent."

She added the last dialogue with the PCCC, held last month, was a series of presentations rather than an engagement.

"They set up these dialogues supposedly to allow people to know more … but we are not in the room; we're not even virtually in the room because there is no space for discussion or to answer questions. The kinds of spaces created for other issues are not meaningful."

The leader of the economic justice programme at the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), Dominic Brown, emphasised the need for more transparency around the terms of the COP26 agreement.

There is very little clarity on that in general and this is a problem, we are not even certain about how the financing will work.

"There is no clarity on whether it is a once-off amount or an amount given each year, and the conditions that accompanies this need to be disclosed," Brown said.

"The energy transmission is critical to the unfolding of SA and therefore how it unfold should be an inclusive process.

"If you have a small amount of investment dictating from afar with big business and government as to how that must happen at the exclusion of people who will be most affected, that seems to be a major problem."

He added engagements so far have been exclusionary, lacking in exploration of the possibilities and implications of proposals in its entirety.

This, Brown said, would prevent a real decarbonisation process.

"There won't be a transition, if there is one it won't be a just one,” he added.

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