South Africa has initiated a transition to a more sustainable development path that means moving towards a low-carbon economy. But, in a highly unequal society, the need for a just transition that empowers vulnerable stakeholders is emerging as an imperative.
International experience suggests fostering a just transition requires long-term, ambitious interventions at multiple levels. South Africa’s mix of measures remain in development and a source of much debate. Independent, non-profit, economic research institution Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) has been hosting a series of webinars where panelists discuss the shape of a just transition processes, exploring all the options.
In the most recent webinar TIPS Senior Economist Gaylor Montmasson-Claire discussed the policy toolbox available for a just transition, unpacking the various frameworks that other countries have and are using to move towards a low carbon economy.
One way of looking at the policy interventions that support a just transition to a low-carbon economy is to consider them in terms of procedural justice (making sure there is a just and inclusive process), distributive justice (how to deal with the impact of change like job losses, asking who will pay and who will benefit) or restorative justice (looking at future damage and trying to right historical damage and inequality).
He pointed out that stakeholders define the just transition in vastly different terms depending on the ambition of your outcome: “It’s important to understand the differences as that determines the kind of policies that will be implemented,” said Montmasson-Clair.
Just transition to low-carbon economy will take time
Fundamental questions which are yet to be answered definitively in South Africa include: what kind of impact are we talking about; what impact climate change will have on a just transition; who are the beneficiaries of the change – only affected workers or all citizens; or who to include in the conversation about the shape of the change.
Evidence is needed and people need to be managed and guided through the process, Montmasson-Clair pointed out. The recent announcement of the Presidential Coordinating Commission on Climate Change that will sit in the Presidency is welcome but still does not spell out exactly how South Africa is tackling the transition or in what format; a broad coalition or forum discussions will be hosted.
“Co-creation takes time, of course. Social dialogue is a means to an end, not an end in itself. There will be disagreement. We will not necessary meet consensus. Deciding what to do when that happens is important,” said Montmasson-Clair.
He was also a speaker on a recent Enlit Africa webinar, hosted by ESI Africa, discussing the specific question of coal in the energy transition. If you are interested in hearing what he had to say, click on the banner below.