Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt
In the context of the COP26 climate summit, South Africa, the European Union, the UK and the US agreed on the Just Energy Transition Partnership, a long-term partnership helping South Africa to accelerate decarbonization (European Commission, 2021). The partnership entails a financial commitment of $8,5 billion and aims at creating a climate resilient economy improving South Africa’s electricity system (European Commission, 2021). Three main steps are planned to realize these goals: the early closure of coal plants, the promotion of clean energy sources, and the support for regions which are dependent on the coal sector (Kumleben, 2021).
In the past, South Africa has been heavily reliant on coal (European Commission, 2021). At the moment, South Africa is “the world’s 12th biggest emitter of climate-warming gases” (Mason et al., 2021). Local communities suffer massively from these high levels of pollution. According to a leaked version of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, “5000 people die each year from pollution in the nation’s coal belt” (Kumleben, 2021). Thanks to the Just Energy Transition Partnership, up to 1-1,5 gigatons of emissions are expected to be prevented over the next two decades (Élysée, 2021). This also reflects UN secretary general Antonio Guterres’ call for poorer countries to stop burning coal by 2040 (WWF, 2021). As coal is “the most polluting fossil fuel”, this is an important contribution to preventing global warming and meeting the 1.5 C target of the Paris Agreement (Mason et al., 2021).
At the moment, more than 120,000 people work in the coal sector (Kumleben, 2021). In the future, their jobs will be affected by the energy transition. As unemployment rates are high and families depend on these jobs, the energy transition needs to ensure that people are granted new jobs (Kumleben, 2021). This is why the partnership aims to support a just transition, helping those affected by the energy transition to find “greener alternatives to make a living” (Mason et al., 2021).
In comparison with other climate agreements, this partnership has the advantage of entailing just a small number of actors (Kumleben, 2021). This enhances the level of accountability and success (Kumleben, 2021). It shows that global collaboration with regards to decarbonisation is possible and provides a blueprint for further cooperation with regards to combating climate change.
Élysée (2 November 2021). Joint Statement – International Just Energy Transition Partnership. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://www.elysee.fr/en/emmanuel-macron/2021/11/02/joint-statement-international-just-energy-transition-partnership
European Commission (2 November 2021). France, Germany, UK, US and EU launch ground-breaking International Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_5768
Kumleben, N. (12 November 2021). South Africa’s Coal Deal Is a New Model for Climate Progress. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/11/12/coal-climate-south-africa-cop26-agreement/
Mason, J. et al. (2 November 2021). South Africa to get $8.5 bln from U.S., EU and UK to speed up shift from coal. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-eu-others-will-invest-speed-safricas-transition-clean-energy-biden-2021-11-02/
WWF (2 November 2021). Coal end-date key to EU-South Afirca just transition success. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://www.wwf.eu/?5006966/Coal-end-date-key-to-EU-South-Africa-just-transition-success