The Paris Agreement and South Africa's just transition

This paper is part of a series of briefing papers that examine the climate change policies of the countries key to the Paris Agreement and its effective and ongoing implementation.

Executive Summary

This briefing paper explores the relationship between South Africa's Paris pledge and the concept of a just transition. We deploy this concept as a frame of reference or 'lens' to help us suggest what we believe to be appropriate (and necessary) and inappropriate policies under a changing climate system in a carbon constrained world. We conclude that the just transition concept, once elevated and centralised in government decision-making, has the potential to generate policies that would deliver environmental gains (eg GHG reductions) as well as socio-economic gains (eg employment, poverty reduction) for South Africa. The result would be a just transition to-what is now referred to in South African narratives-a 'wellbeing economy'.

Key findings:

  • Political, economic, social and ecological transitions in South Africa have had varying successes. In the coming decades, under a changing climate system in a carbon constrained world, the concept of a just transition or a 'wellbeing economy', may provide a useful guide to government decision-making in key policy areas.
  • One key policy area is electricity generation. We find that an electricity generation mix dominated by coal-fired electricity generation is incompatible with the just transition concept or a wellbeing economy. By contrast, the concept is significantly compatible with policies that seek to expand installed renewable electricity capacity.
  • A second key policy area is food supply. We find that a food supply mix that encourages the intensification of South Africa's food production system is largely incompatible with the just transition concept. By contrast, the concept is more compatible with a roll-out of an agro-ecological food production system.

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Ben Parr

Mark Swilling

Don Henry