Promoting a just transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies in Southern Africa


Article | 25 October 2019
Climate change and environmental challenges are having far-reaching impacts on economies, jobs and social development. Countries in Southern Africa are in general low emitters of greenhouse gases, but as climate change knows no border, the sub-region stands a high risk to suffer from the accelerating impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Environmental risks, natural hazards and ecological scarcities hurt the poor and disadvantaged the most. Moreover, climate change is worsening some of the major development challenges of the continent, such as poverty, high youth unemployment, high levels of inequality and informality and lack of decent work.
The good news is that greening and “climate-proofing” the economy comes with vast opportunities. In fact, opportunities for gains may be largest in developing and emerging economies. The large-scale investments that enable a green restructuring of our economies can foster sustainable enterprises and drive job creation, skills development, improved job quality and increased incomes, as well as advances in equity, gender equality and social inclusion.

These gains are not automatic. They require the right policies that respond to country-specific challenges and seize opportunities by integrating environmental, social and decent work elements.

In response to these challenges and opportunities, the training course “Promoting a just transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies in Southern Africa” took place on 7-11 October 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa, with tripartite delegations from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and South Africa. It was organized by the ILO Pretoria Country Office in collaboration with the International Training Centre of the ILO (ITC-ILO) and Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) South Africa.
The objectives of the training were for participants to deepen their knowledge of the key topics green jobs, just transition and social justice with the guidance of international development experts. More specifically, participants learned about:
• ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition
• The interlinkages between the natural environment and the world of work and how each impact the other
• Best practices from Southern Africa and country-specific just transition examples
The objectives were further for participants to be able to co-create solutions to complex problems that contribute to creating more sustainable societies. More specifically, to:
• Use international guidelines to help countries manage the transition to low-carbon economies
• Foster decent work on a large scale
• Learn from best practices and experiences in the region
• Network with just transition experts and prominent actors in the field.

The workshop was officially opened by ILO-Pretoria Director Joni Musabayana. The opening was followed by Prof Mthunzi Mdwaba, vice-president for the ILO Governing Body and global spokesperson for employers, who enthusiastically shared the global context and central elements to enable a Just Transition. Prof Mdwaba emphasised the importance of always placing people at the centre, of ensuring human-centred outcomes: “We don’t pay enough attention to the people – and to the realities of people”. According to Prof Mdwaba, the biggest challenge to manage a Just Transition are policy coherence, policy sustainability and policy implementation. Further, Prof Mdwaba highlighted the importance of trust, inclusion and leadership for a Just Transition: “We must agree on the how – how do we do it together, so that no one is left behind?”
The opening session laid a foundation for the vivid, dynamic discussions and engagements that were held throughout the week. The participants, who represented ministries of labour and environment, municipalities, organised business and organised labour, as well as civil society, grassroots and community organisations, were all contributing with different perspectives and insights, which created an open platform of peer-to-peer learning and cross-fertilisation of experiences and ideas.
Throughout the week, presentations were held on the complex interlinkages between decent work and the natural environment; on the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition; and on the pre-conditions of gender equality and leaving no one behind in a Just Transition. After a session on policies for a Just Transition, participants delved into policy areas such as skills development and green works, and further into the South African experience of reviewing the National Development Plan Chapter 5, developing the Low Emissions Development Strategy and the National Employment Vulnerability Assessments, and the Green Fund. Presentations were intertwined with group discussions, Q&As and interactive exercises.

Three panel discussions took place. The first was with grassroots organisations and environmental activists who made strong cases for the vital role of bottom-up grassroots initiatives in paving the way for a Just Transition. The second panel discussion was devoted to social dialogue and why it is at the core of Just Transitions, and had representatives of government, organised business and labour, civil society and youth. The third panel was composed of researchers and they made a deep dive into the transition from coal to renewable energy and on “the how” to ensure it is a just one.

A highlight of the week according to some participants was the study tour to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Smart Places Cluster, where they saw solar PV testing facilities, electrical cars and various labs, and learned about the CSIR low-carbon energy system through solar PV, wind and biogas for an Energy Autonomous Campus.

An action planning session rounded off the insightful week. Participants grouped into their respective countries and discussed the next steps on the pathway towards a Just Transition. The commitments were high and the ideas for follow-up actions were many. On the last day of the workshop, when group representatives presented their action plans, it became obvious that the real hard work will only come after the training, as multiple actors work together to transform our societies and economies into sustainable, low-carbon and climate resilient ones, where social justice is more than a dream but a reality.