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Just transition needs to be accelerated to combat inequality

By Mzila Mthenjane, Executive Head – Stakeholder Affairs at Exxaro Resources

Climate change compounded with widespread socio-economic disparities has placed a tremendous responsibility on all, especially the private sector to do more. Corporations can lead the fight against waste and excess to tackle society’s biggest challenges.

The public, civil society, investor community and governments are demanding that large companies demonstrate tangible commitments to an evolving operating context and approach to transitioning towards a secure and more sustainable world.

To achieve this goal of a more just and fair society, so clearly set out by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is essential to commit to a just transition – a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy.

This just transition means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. It must be just and equitable at redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations.

Investors, asset managers and financial institutions are increasingly demanding that companies disclose their climate-related financial risks and opportunities. These disclosures allow more effective valuations of risk exposure and empower markets to reward sustainable business models.

Sustainable development related to addressing issues presented by climate change is no longer nice to have. It has become a market force that has to be adhered to. It is good business to be environmentally sustainable.

Addressing the impact of climate change remains one of the world’s most complex and pressing challenges. Climate change, especially in sub-Saharan countries, negatively affects society’s ability to eradicate poverty, create sustainable jobs and mitigate the physical impact.

It erodes opportunities to fulfil the ambitions of the SDGs. Businesses must recognise their role and collective responsibility to participate in the transition to a low-carbon world and greening the energy system to reduce emissions while supporting prosperous and safe communities.

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Making developed nations pay for SA’s just energy transition

In partnership with governments, businesses must take a lead on these critical issues as a key facilitator of the transition. Social dialogue and collaboration will be key and together with trade unions and civil society groups among others, government and business must collaborate in their planning to create policies that strive towards zero emissions and an economic development model.

This transformation is not only about phasing out polluting sectors, but also about creating and driving new jobs, new industries, new skills, new investment and a more equal and resilient economy.

Business and the just transition

Exxaro is embracing this new paradigm and is increasingly responsive to climate change risks and opportunities as they transition towards a low-carbon world. The company is transitioning from a coal-based to a diversified renewable energy and minerals business that will thrive in a low-carbon future.

The company has invested $100.7 million to develop two wind farms in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, which today delivers 239MW of reliable and clean power to the national grid. We expect revenue contribution from our renewable energy business to grow over time as we increase our investment in this sector

These kinds of sustainable investments are one example of the kind of impact big business can have in providing clean and reliable energy in support of a low-carbon world and future livelihoods.

Our Climate Change Response Strategy is also based on this just transition principle which equally considers social, environmental and financial sustainability within our society. The transition to a low-carbon business envisages social inclusion that will make our business resilient to the transitional and physical risks of climate change, sustaining and creating employment opportunities and increasing the adaptive capacity of communities relying on our operations.

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Link between just energy transition and
energy poverty

Environmental sustainability is but one pillar – even more important is that business places people at the centre of its contributions to society. It’s essential that business believes in the power and potential of people and to place communities at the heart of its decisions by investing in economic and social sustainability programmes.

Business has the capability and resources to become a positive force for social change and affect economic empowerment in the communities in which we operate. By investing in various community projects, social cohesion and enterprise and supplier development (ESD) initiatives, business can have a sustainable impact that not only creates employment but improves the quality of life for our suppliers, employees, and communities.

Sustainable development is only possible with the active engagement of the world of work. Governments, employers and workers are not passive bystanders, but rather agents of change. It is within our reach and our power to develop new ways of working that safeguard the environment, society and the commitment to ethical and transparent governance.

Have you watched it?
The just energy transition and the wider energy sector’s role

Along with creating a sustainable today, we need to eradicate poverty and promote social justice by fostering sustainable enterprises and creating decent work for all.

We are all responsible as a collective – all public and private sector organisations and civil society – and we are duty-bound to take care of the environment in every way possible. We can no longer ignore the just transition if we are to meaningfully reduce poverty and inequality.

Guest Contributor
The views expressed in this article by the author are not necessarily those of the publishers and/or association partners. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the publisher and editors cannot be held responsible for any inaccurate information supplied and/or published.