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Unions uneasy over South African Just Transition finance deal announced at COP26

4 November, 2021South African trade unions affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) are supportive of a Just Transition partnership that is inclusive of the workers and poor communities through social dialogue, protects jobs and livelihoods, and promotes a socially owned renewable energy sector.

However, they say that the multilateral Just Energy Transition partnership agreement announced by United States' President Joe Biden at COP26 on 2 November, lacks details on how the energy transition will happen. The partnership worth US$8.5 billion aims to assist South African plans to close coal mines earlier and move to renewable energy sources.

The partnership, which will provide funds for the energy transition from carbon intensive coal to low carbon renewable energy sources that include solar and wind, was signed by the governments of South Africa and France, Germany, United Kingdom, US, and the European Union. It will be implemented over three to five years. The agreement is the first of its kind and a possible model for other developing countries.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa described the partnership, which is made up of concessional finance, as a “watershed moment” that will increase the country’s energy security by “creating jobs and harnessing new opportunities for investment, with support from developed economies.”
“Climate change is an existential challenge that confronts us all and South Africa is committed to playing its part in reducing global emissions” he said, adding that there will be investments in electrical vehicle manufacturing and green hydrogen.

According to the government, the agreement will benefit coal miners and communities. Unions say over 100,000 coal miners will lose jobs. Another 100,000 people in the communities, who make a living from the coal value chain, will need compensation when the mines are closed. Studies estimate that the just transition cost for coal mineworkers will include compensation, retraining, relocation and rehabilitation of communities and other costs related to regional economic development.

The partnership is also expected to provide funds to power utility Eskom for the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations that are concentrated in the Mpumalanga Province. South Africa is the world’s 12th highest polluter and the highest in Africa.

Irvin Jim, NUMSA general secretary says:

“We are concerned that this announcement will accelerate a rush to close coal fired power stations before a viable solution for a consistent energy supply is found. Currently renewable energy cannot meet the needs of industry. If there is to be a transition, the government must deliver a social plan to develop provinces and regions that will be affected, with specific pathways on how to replace jobs and industries.”


“While funding the transition is key, the process followed is more important to the union. The union needs assurance that workers and working-class communities will not be negatively affected. Presently, it is not clear what this money will be used for, under what conditions it will be accessed, and if a significant part of it will be used to protect workers and communities. The unions remain uneasy about the deal,”

says William Mabapa, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) acting general secretary.

The country’s energy transition policies include the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that are part of the Paris Agreement. Additionally, the Integrated Resource Plan (2019-2030) outlines how coal will be replaced by renewable energy and gas sources.

Diana Junquera Curiel, the IndustriALL director for the energy industry says:

“This is an important partnership because climate change mitigation needs global cooperation especially between the developed and developing countries. Further, the South African government must further engage with trade unions and negotiate with them to protect the interests of the workers and communities. This can be done through a detailed Just Transition plan which stipulates on fair compensation, training and other benefits for workers, and communities.”