OPINION | Alex Lenferna and Mbali Baduza: Climate justice in our lifetime or never

Alex Lenferna and Mbali Baduza – News 24 (11 Nov 2022)

The Just Energy Transition Partnership, funded by the US, UK, Germany, France, and the EU, is mired in secrecy and lack of transparency, write Alex Lenferna and Mbali Baduza.

On 12 November, people across the world are taking to the streets to demand climate justice as the 27th annual United Nations Climate Summit (COP 27) takes place in Egypt. Here in South Africa, Climate Justice Coalition members and partners will join the Global Day of Climate Action in a March for Jobs, Clean Energy, and Climate Justice in Tshwane. 

We will be joined by communities affected by our crushing energy crisis, by people from all walks of life who know we need to tackle the climate crisis urgently, and by trade unions, including both SAFTU and COSATU, who are demanding jobs and a just transition for workers and communities.

The science of climate change is clear: we are in a climate emergency. We must rapidly move away from polluting fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas to avoid the climate crisis spiralling out of control and plunging the world into a devastating future. That’s why we reject attempts to build out more polluting, expensive and harmful coal, oil and gas and call instead for a renewable energy future.

Renewable energy 

Renewable energy is not just cleaner than fossil fuels. It is also more affordable, more job-creating, and the fastest way to bring new energy online. That’s why solar, wind, and storage can most quickly and affordably solve our load-shedding and energy crises. It must also be the engine for driving a labour-intensive, low-import green industrialisation of South Africa, creating millions of good-paying, decent jobs.

If we want our energy future to serve the people, we cannot simply hand it over to the for-profit private sector or foreign governments and corporations with their own agendas. That is why we will march to the Department of Public Enterprises to demand that Eskom be taken back from the corrupt forces driving it into ruin and disrepair. Instead, we must drive forward a Green New Eskom that delivers on a rapid and just transition to a more socially-owned renewable energy future providing clean, safe and affordable energy for all. 

We cannot call any energy transition just while the poor cannot afford energy. The steep tariff increases of 750% in the past 16 years have thrust us deep into energy poverty. Already nearly half of South Africans are considered energy poor. As such, we call for expanding and properly delivering the Free Basic Electricity grant. All energy-poor households have a constitutional right to free basic electricity to meet their basic needs. 

Just Energy Transition Partnership

At COP27, the South African government announced a climate finance deal under the banner of the Just Energy Transition Partnership – funded by the US, UK, Germany, France, and the EU. The deal has been mired in secrecy and lack of transparency. That’s why we will also march to the office of the Presidency, to demand that climate finance must be transparent, accountable, and democratically determined so that it is in our collective interest. 

The people of South Africa are already paying for corrupt deals, such as the billions of dollars of World Bank loans that brought us dysfunctional and polluting disasters such as Medupi and Kusile coal power stations. We should reject those corrupt loans as odious and demand that the global north pay its climate debt. Doing so would free up lots of financial space for a just transition.

While we demand that countries of the global north that most caused the climate crisis pay their climate debt, we also recognise South Africa is one of the world’s most polluting countries. As such, we owe our own climate debt, especially to our African neighbours who have done little to cause the climate crisis but are facing devastating impacts. 

Wealthy corporations and individuals are the primary beneficiaries of South Africa’s deeply extractive, unequal and polluting economic system forged in the coal-powered fires of Apartheid. As a form of reparations, wealthy individuals and corporations must help pay for a just transition through taxes, such as a wealth tax, a resource rent tax, taxes on environmentally damaging activities, and windfall taxes. 

Such progressive taxation could help fund major investments in public goods, such as clean, safe and affordable public transit, energy efficiency programs, and investments in community climate resilience. Doing so is one of our greatest job creation opportunities, putting people to work and building a more socially and ecologically just, climate-resilient future.

Importance of climate funding 

To ensure access to those jobs, we must also invest in a massive training and education programme. That’s why we will also be marching with Expanded Public Works Programme Workers to the Department of Public Works in support of and their campaign for insourced, permanent jobs on a livable wage. No worker or community must be left behind in the transition. We must guarantee meaningful, restorative, well-remunerated work for all.

In the end, though, climate justice will not happen without funding. Currently, however, the Treasury is driving an austerity agenda, slashing public spending, and imposing privatisation. Its austerity is selective, though, as our budget is providing hundreds of billions of rands to subsidise polluting industries at precisely the time we must move away from fossil fuels. 

That’s why we are marching to the National Treasury to demand that they prioritise climate funding to boost jobs, ensure affordable access to clean energy, and build resilience to climate change. We demand the end of an austerity budget that serves the profiteering of the corrupt, rapacious and extractive minerals energy complex and their financiers. 

Rather than the prevailing climate agenda of privatisation and austerity, we demand real climate justice that transforms our deeply polluting, unjust, and unequal country. We must pursue a homegrown climate justice agenda that delivers millions of decent, well-paying jobs, a rapid and just transition to a more socially-owned renewable energy future, and meaningful climate justice that delivers for all. 

– Alex Lenferna is secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition and a postdoctoral research fellow at Nelson Mandela University. Mbali Baduza is the deputy secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition and a legal researcher at Section 27.