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Green growth and jobs

1st December 2023

By: Terence Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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Transitioning South Africa’s energy ecosystem from its current over-reliance on coal to one progressively based on the country’s natural advantages of abundant sun, wind and land will take decades. It is, thus, technically possible and socially desirable to implement strategies that support workers and communities whose livelihoods are threatened by the shift.

Given the long life of the assets involved, there is time and space to plan for the energy transition – time and space that were not available to policymakers and industry incumbents in other sectors that have experienced fundamental technological disruption, such as telecoms.

That said, the ‘just energy transition’ cannot be allowed to be used as an excuse, particularly by expedient politicians or self- interested businesspeople, to prevent change – especially given the growing body of evidence confirming that the new energy industry is not only cleaner, but also jobs and growth enhancing.

A recent report by Harvard’s Growth Lab amplified the importance of the transition and the associated green economic activity to extracting South Africa from a prolonged period of weak growth and economic exclusion.

A key conclusion of the research is that South Africa does not only have vast opportunities to produce and benefit from renewable energy, but widespread potential to supply many of the minerals, goods, services and innovations that the world will need to decarbonise at scale.

South Africa is encouraged to adopt a three-pronged approach to taking advantage of its green-growth potential by, firstly, making the enablers of global decarbonisation, such as producing critical minerals and targeting emerging green supply chains. Secondly, making green versions of grey products, such as green drop-in fuels. And thirdly, exporting green know-how, such as engineering, procurement and construction expertise in building green projects and technological know-how in areas such as Fischer-Tropsch, Vanadium Redox Flow battery technology, fuel cells and electrolysers.

The other piece of good news about the transition is that clean- energy industries are more jobs-intensive overall than the traditional fossil-fuel sectors. This has been reaffirmed in a recent report by the International Energy Agency, which confirms that, since 2021, more people are already employed in clean-energy sectors than in fossil fuels and that two clean energy jobs will be created for every fossil-fuel-related job as countries seek to meet their net-zero targets.

The ‘World Energy Employment 2023’ report states 35-million of the 67-million energy jobs recorded in 2022 where in clean- energy industries, where employment growth is being driven primarily by the five sectors of solar photovoltaic, wind, electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, heat pumps and critical minerals mining.

This is surely good news for a country such as South Africa, which already has significant or nascent capacity in all five of these sectors.

The priority now is to not only consolidate these jobs, but also ensure there is full political, policy, financial, infrastructure and, crucially, skills- development impetus to support these sectors, as well as some of the emerging ones outlined in the Harvard study.

Edited by Terence Creamer
Creamer Media Editor

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