The Just Transition presents opportunities for funders. Malik Dasoo. African Climate Foundation. IPASA Newsletter. December 2022.

The Just Transition presents opportunities for funders

Malik Dasoo is a Researcher at the African Climate Foundation

The South African climate change conundrum

Africa is facing the worst effects of climate change already and will be subjected to increasingly disastrous impacts as global warming worsens. The irony is that Africa is only responsible for 4% of global emissions and its most affected nations are not being supported in adapting to climate extremes. Indeed, this was the rallying cry for climate justice narratives arising from the global south at COP27 with a pledge to set up a finance facility for “Loss and Damage” being the most successful outcome. The world is moving towards the recognition that we now need to begin preparing for climate change’s worst effects.

While this recognition is necessary, we now run the risk of obfuscating the imperative to rapidly decarbonize and change our economies in the process. With this in mind, I’m reminded by the quote, “never let a good crisis go to waste”. With Africa being responsible for only 4% of global emissions, it is important to note that South Africa contributes to nearly half of that, which places us among in the top quartile of emitters globally. Under the circumstances, South Africa should be in the dock with global polluters, unlike countries like Malawi, Burundi, or Madagascar where there is greater need for compensation. Indeed, South Africa’s emissions have stunted, and have reduced life expectancy for millions. We are, however, a developing country with fewer resources at our disposal than the likes of the USA and EU states.

The imperative for change and the acknowledgement of its associated risks is encapsulated by the phrase “Just transition”. It signifies a move away from carbon intensive and ecologically destructive economic development where the needs of those at most risk from the transition are not adversely affected. The phrase “Just Transition” is, however, at risk of becoming a fashionable catchphrase that runs the risk of becoming an alternative to policy implementation. Without an interrogation of how to do “”the hard stuff”  – job creation, repurposing of infrastructure, reconvening decision-making platforms etc. – the Just Transition risks becoming another jargon phrase in the climate diplomacy landscape where rhetoric trumps implementation.

Job creation and the Just Transition

In this article, we will interrogate the aspect of job creation for the Just Transition and narrow our focus on the imperative for education and training for a workforce geared to enable the Just Transition. To start on an optimistic note, some reports are estimating that more jobs could be gained than lost in the Just Transition (McKinsey & co. and AIDC). These are broad claims with many nuances that require further interrogation (quality of work, the legitimacy in retraining a labour sector, wage compensation comparisons, social protection measures, etc.).

However, the potential gains that could be achieved through the Just Transition will not happen by default and will require effective policies, institutions, and action. Investment into education, reskilling and upskilling of a labour force is not just important for the Just Transition. If done right, investments can ameliorate a historical burden that has left South Africa with one of the world’s highest unemployment and inequality figures that has side-lined a human-cantered approach to work. This was the recommendation of the International Labour Organisations guidelines on sustainable development, decent work, and green jobs.

Creating a conducive policy environment and skills development pathways  

South Africa’s policy environment is not currently conducive to scaling the development of Green Jobs. Skills development measures are not well integrated into national policy frameworks., It is encouraging that recognition of the need to develop this is increasing, and the Department of Environmental Affairs having in 2014 identified four areas for creating Green Jobs, namely:

  1. Development and growth of new green sectors and industries.
  2. Retrofitting of industrial efficiency processes and clean production technologies in existing sectors and industries.
  3. Growth of existing Green Economy sectors such as renewable energy, waste recycling and biodiversity.
  4. Incentivising and acceleration of private and public-sector investment in restoring critical ecosystem services and land productivity, water conservation, wetland rehabilitation and fire management.

While there are policy measures that refer to labour needs in South Africa’s National Climate Change Response White Paper, there is surprisingly little mention of skills development. Despite this, there are some institutions that, if adequately resourced and supported, can become important bedrocks for South Africa’s skills development pathways.

Despite their significant limitations, Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) can be important actors in upskilling the labour force for the transition. These sector-based bodies can identify the required green skills for the various sectors in the economy. Surprisingly, there is not a SETA for the environmental sector but in 2010, the Department of Environmental affairs released an Environmental Sector Skills Plan to assist with the identification of requirements.

SETAs are increasingly being relied upon to provide research and information to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), which is tasked with working with stakeholders to ensure the alignment of skills demand and supply.  Currently, resource deficiencies and capacity constraints are the primary factors holding the SETAs them back from fulfilling their mandate. If these constraints are addressed, they can be a powerful institution to align skills demand with skills supply. This is arguably one of the most important factors to support a workforce geared to implement the Just Transition.

How funders can support Just Transition skills development

Philanthropies can play an important role in supporting the capacity needs of SETAs, both through direct financing with a climate lens on their work and through the convening power of linking them to Universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions. One reflection from the IPASA’s November 2022 Symposium was the need for philanthropies involved in the education sector to include climate as a focal area of their work. To  this end, the IPASA Climate Change toolkit and Resource Pack was developed to help philanthropies navigate their climate journeys. Another avenue ripe for exploration is the need for funders to support the matching of skills needs and supply at all levels of education. The ILO released a report “Skills For Green Jobs in South Africa”, which provides a comprehensive assessment of our policy landscape and identifies the key institutions required to implement a skills-development programme in South Africa. Fortunately, there are institutions with mandates to do this, but they need support to build their capacity and fulfil their mandate.

Focused, coordinated efforts can harness the potential of the crisis

It is clear that the challenges are immense, and that the road ahead is not smooth and easy. At the same time, there is significant potential that can be harnessed in this crisis to bring stakeholders from different sectors together and to support them through funding to ensure that skills required for climate mitigation and adaptation are developed across all sectors. This is critical, not only to address issues of climate, but also to contribute to much needed economic development.


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