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Just energy transition to be job-positive, but youth skills and businesses crucial

17th March 2023

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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South Africa's transition from fossil fuel dependence to a renewable energy-based economy will add more jobs than will be lost in fossil fuel value chains, but the skills that young people have to participate in the transition, including by establishing careers and businesses in nascent value chains, is a central element of any just energy transition discussion.

These were some of the views expressed by a range of energy industry representatives who spoke during the 'Youth dialogue on the Just Transition' webinar hosted by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and the South African National Energy Association on March 16.

Reskilling and upskilling existing workers was an important element of a just energy transition so that they were ready to take up opportunities in new energy sector industries when they were available, said DMRE chief director Elizabeth Marabwa.

Similarly, upskilling youth with the skills required in new industries was a fundamental tenet of the Just Transition Framework so that they could take up emerging opportunities in the renewable energy sector, she added.

Based on an analysis of the job implications of the allocations of generation capacity in the Integrated Resource Plan 2019, which was the most recent plan and required an update, a net-positive 35 000 jobs would be created on a like-for-like job replacement basis, noted research organisation Council for Scientific and Industrial Research acting research lead Aradhna Pandarum.

The basis of a low-carbon energy economy would be renewables and would be the most significant contributor to changes in infrastructure and new infrastructure building programmes the country needed to pursue.

The challenge emerges with the location and timing of new jobs, with Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme projects thus far excluding Mpumalanga, which is where much of South Africa's coal-fired power is generated.

Further, the timing of the closure of power plants and the opening of opportunities in the renewable energy industry and in other industries must be considered to reduce the chances of jobs being lost without new job opportunities being available, she highlighted.

"A just energy transition must include environmental, economic and social aspects to be considered just. However, South Africa ranks as the most unequal, with the highest unemployment rate, of any country in the world, which are two of the three main challenges South Africa faces of unemployment, poverty and inequality."

Therefore, the challenge for South Africa extended beyond only reducing its carbon intensity and greenhouse-gas emissions, as it needed to figure out in its planning how it could increase and attain the socioeconomic growth it needed, she emphasised.

"If we only replace jobs like-for-like in a transition, it will still mean that 33% of our adult population remain unemployed. We, therefore, have to look at other types of interventions that can help to overcome these challenges," she added.

Additionally, economic diversification options in areas that would be negatively affected by the energy transition must be considered, with the associated requirement for reskilling of people and communication with affected communities of the new jobs being created, she noted.

There would also be opportunities in infrastructure development projects, including to address the existing and growing need to expand the grid, but, if South Africa wanted its people and small, medium-sized and microenterprises to be involved in these opportunities, it needed to ensure that they have been capacitated to understand the opportunities and how they could participate, Pandarum said.

Additionally, there were overlapping skill disciplines in renewable energy value chains, such as solar and wind, which broadened the opportunities for people who gained such skills to participate in different industries and subsectors, she added.

Meanwhile, DMRE senior energy negotiator Thebe Mamakoko outlined some of the monitoring mechanisms the department was developing to measure the impact on jobs and communities arising from the energy transition to ensure the transition was just.

Being equipped with information about jobs, potential impacts and opportunities, and changes in industries, meant South Africa could effectively evaluate value addition and beneficiation, including exploring how an energy transition could resuscitate industries that were lying fallow and the opportunities that could be created in such industries, he noted.

"We need to ensure we can create the necessary opportunities for enterprise development and job creation in a range of industries to ensure that the energy transition is just from a social and employment point of view," he added.

The importance of skills could not be overemphasised. There was a requirement to evaluate skills in all industries and sectors in areas that would be negatively affected by the energy transition, not only in the mining, coal and power value chains, to ensure that the country cultivated and harnessed the necessary skills to implement a just energy transition, Mamakoko highlighted.

Further, there were opportunities for job creation and business development in the demand side and energy efficiency components of the just energy transition, and these also presented low-hanging fruit in terms of providing training for youths, he noted.

"For example, as we tap donor funding to expand energy efficiency in public buildings, we can deliver tangible reskilling and create decent job opportunities for youth.

"We want youth to agitate to ensure that we, as government, ensure that there are opportunities in terms of industrialisation in the just energy transition, as well as to ensure their views are raised on how we must engage with the funding available to achieve a just energy transition," Mamakoko said.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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