Nonprofit organisation Earthlife Africa is requesting increased grassroots-level engagement and popular education on the energy-related Just Transition Framework to ensure ordinary people in South Africa understand the issues relating to climate change and the just transition.
Over the past few weeks, the Presidential Climate Change (PCC) Commission has started to ramp up its consultation with communities on a framework pathway for a just transition.
The Just Transition Framework – which is meant to guide South Africa’s response to the climate crises, and which should make clear to citizens the path the country should take to move to a low-carbon society – is open for public comment until April 29.
Following the PCC Commission’s community stakeholder engagement in Gqeberha, in the Eastern Cape, and Lephalale, in Limpopo, earlier this year, Earthlife Africa says communities from the Eastern Cape and Limpopo are sharing their thoughts.
For the better part of the past year, Earthlife Africa has held several dialogues with communities to unpack exactly what the just transition would entail. As a result, the organisation says some communities in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape are already knowledgeable on these issues and want to ensure that they form part of the decision-making.
Earthlife Africa has also gathered a group of about 20 young activists from these provinces, as part of its community advocacy for a carbon-neutral future.
Community activist and member of Women of Change in Lephalale Lucy Pitsi says that, while there are many in communities who may not know the popular words and phrases to describe it, they do know how they experience the impacts of climate change.
“From these past few community engagements, it is clear that people want to be included in the just transition, but they need clarity on what it means for them.”
As such, she says past mistakes cannot be repeated if there is any hope of creating a better society. “If we want to have a happier future for our country, we must address the climate crises as an inclusive process, which includes making significant investments to ensure that the transition is indeed just.”
Further, Pitsi says, in a future that is fair and equitable, only developments that recognise and respect people’s rights and that of the environment should be considered.
PCC Commissioner and Earthlife Africa head Makoma Lekalakala explains that the move away from fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive activities means South Africans need to develop new skills to enable them to work in the sectors created as part of a new low-carbon economy.
Some of the key issues that emerged from the PCC community engagement in Lephalale – home to coal mines and coal-fired power stations – were focused on the effects of uncontrolled air pollution and environmental destruction, in addition to concerns about access to water.
According to communities, who know first-hand about the devastating impacts of fossil fuels, there are 82 mines in Limpopo – a province with rampant poverty. Such communities have issues such as no access to clean water or quality sanitation services. A significant volume of water available in Limpopo – a water-scarce province – goes towards mines, power stations and other industrial activities.
Another gripe of communities, according to Earthlife, is poor air quality as a result of pollution from industrial activities.
At the PCC community engagement in Gqeberha, Mzoli Mgqali from Hlumani Nande Environmental Ambassadors in Motherwell and a member of Earthlife Africa’s PCC activist group spoke of the many water challenges faced by communities living next to polluting industries.
Athini John from Green Blood Uitenhage, meanwhile wanted to know more about the $8.5-billion Climate Finance Deal that was announced at COP26. She wanted to know whether this was a loan or a grant, as well as exactly how this finance would benefit communities.
Another member of Earthlife Africa’s PCC group, Bulelwa Klassen from Siyanqoba Feeding Scheme in Zwide Township, says the purpose of the just transition should be to ensure that climate change is effectively addressed, in ways that improve the lives of South Africans.
Earthlife Africa representative Thabo Sibeko says that, as a result of hearing from communities, it is clear that these initial consultations should be regarded as the first step. “It should be considered as the final step in what should be a process towards the formulation of the Just Transition Framework.”
He says communities at a grassroots level will require much more engagement, as not all marginalised peoples have had an opportunity to participate. “Also, it is impossible to think that all the issues can be addressed in one day. We hope the second and third rounds of consultation are still being organised to ensure that ‘no-one is left behind’.”
Sibeko says that there are a lot of concerns that these public engagements are a “mere rubber stamp” since public participation has become more of a box-ticking exercise in South Africa.
This is why, he says, the participants in these presentations want evidence that their views have been considered and incorporated into the draft Just Transition Framework.