Thuli Khumalo | A climate-resilient transition requires bold action, action and social consensus


Concluding a social compact around a just and climate-resilient transition will be difficult for some, especially workers and communities whose livelihoods are tied to fossil fuel industries and those enduring the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality, writes Thuli Khumalo.

As we continue to face the immediate response to the Covid-19 pandemic and our economic recovery, we continue to face a crisis that looms longer – a crisis that will be more devastating: climate change.

It is in South Africa’s national interest to address climate change, in accordance with our national circumstances and development priorities. This is not just an environmental imperative, but also an economic imperative, as countries around the world begin to adopt low-emission policies, affecting global trade and the demand for goods and resources.

Climate change is increasing the incidence of extreme weather events and more cyclical, longer-term events such as droughts, floods and reduced agricultural production. Every day we witness the enormous damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, lives and livelihoods, and the displacement of thousands of people, as we are reminded that it is the poorest communities – women and young people, the unemployed and those living in informal settlements – who are most vulnerable to climate change.

Innovations needed to fight climate change

Climate change compounds South Africa’s triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The health impacts of burning fossil fuels (a major driver of global climate change) also affect poorer communities, further highlighting these inequalities.

Tackling climate change requires deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – the harmful pollutants that drive climate change. It also means strengthening adaptation measures to improve resilience to immediate events, as well as long-term climate changes that impact water security, food security and human health.

Addressing climate change will require urgent, significant and transformational changes across all sectors of the South African economy. This will require innovations in urban and infrastructure planning, a massive shift to clean energy sources, and changes in how we use our land and water and how we obtain and consume our food.

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The changes will be difficult for some, especially workers and communities whose lives and livelihoods are tied to fossil fuel industries and women, youth and the poor, who already disproportionately bear most of the hardship and of South Africa’s triple challenges.

The Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) is tasked with developing a social compact around a just and resilient transition to climate change in South Africa – engaging all stakeholders, incorporating their views and making recommendations based on broad consensus, grounded in a solid base of evidence and research.

Our priority is to complete work on a just transition framework for South Africa, taking into account the views of those who will be most affected by the transition. This framework aims to bring coherence and coordination to planning for a just transition in the country, placing us on a solid foundation to seize the opportunities and manage the risks of transition in the years to come.

The energy transition is crucial

Alongside the development of the framework, we will also continue the implementation – how, concretely, the commission will give effect to a just transition.

This work covers all facets of the transition:

  • Create employment and skills development strategies to equip our workers, especially young people, for the green industries of the future.
  • Stimulate research and innovation to support a just transition.
  • Mobilizing finance towards a just transition, with the starting point of monitoring current financial flows to understand the main drivers of climate investments.

Energy transition will be at the heart of all work in 2022. The rapid and fair transformation of South Africa’s energy mix is ​​crucial to improving energy security, eliminating energy poverty and reducing emissions associated with electricity generation. from fossil fuels.

The just energy transition, in particular, requires partners to agree on the pace of decarbonization, the ramp-up of low-carbon energies and the value chains that support them, the modernization of the energy grid and the mobilization of climate finance. on a large scale, to enable a just transition.

The CCP will pursue energy modeling to understand, with broad social consensus, possible energy transformation, including opportunities for local economic development and job creation. The aim is to develop an energy plan, shared by all social partners, which the government uses to inform regulatory and planning instruments such as the Integrated Resource Plan.

People must be at the center of the response to climate change. In fact, the goal is just transition: Seizing the opportunities and managing the risks associated with climate change, with an overarching goal of improving the lives and livelihoods of ALL South Africans, especially those most affected.

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As we look to the rest of 2022 and beyond, we must continue to build a new model of inclusive and collective decision-making, integrating the individuals, workers and communities most affected by the transition.

Other social partners will have to play their part in the just transition. To do this, social partners must be empowered and empowered to manage – and even benefit from – the impacts of climate change.

Specifically, unions must continue the fight for decent work and protect jobs for a just transition. Civil society must continue to champion the social and environmental agenda and hold stakeholders to account for the promises they make.

Research institutes and universities should continue to think deeply about the opportunities and risks associated with just transition and make evidence-based recommendations that inform transition planning. Young people must continue to champion a sustainable future for all.

Significant investment and buy-in from the private sector will be needed to sustain the just transition agenda. However, the pursuit of short-term profits often undermines effective climate action, in conflict with long-term transition goals.

Companies must therefore stimulate innovation and investment in clean technologies that create and/or maintain jobs, while assuming their environmental, social and governance responsibilities.

The PCC will continue to support efforts to form a social compact around just transition, undertaking evidence-based research and bringing together all stakeholders in constructive dialogue to define future development paths, taking into account risks and opportunities posed by climate change.

What can I do?

While individuals alone may not be able to make drastic emission reductions that limit climate change to acceptable levels, personal action is essential to elevate the issues.

Energy and food

Small changes around the house will help you use less energy, reducing your carbon footprint. Make sure your home is energy efficient. Check that the building is well insulated. If you are in rented accommodation, lobby your landlord to ensure the property is energy efficient.

Try to choose locally grown, seasonal fresh produce to help reduce carbon emissions from transport, storage and refrigeration.


Not only do cars contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but the air pollution caused by car exhaust poses a serious threat to public health. Instead of getting in the car, walk or cycle – and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits.

Green spaces

Green spaces, such as parks and gardens, are important. They absorb carbon dioxide and are associated with lower levels of air pollution.

– Dr. Thuli Khumalo is the CEO of the President’s Climate Commission. She is the former Deputy Director General responsible for Climate Change and Air Quality in the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment and prior to that served as Chief Director: Air Quality Management and National Air Quality Officer during eight years.

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