Youth Involvement in Climate Policy: The Just Energy Transition Partnership
Photo source: Sustainable Economies Law Center
The youth are significant stakeholders that need to be earnestly engaged for the global society to address climate change effectively. Young climate activists have called for more inclusion and active youth participation in climate policy-making.
South Africa contributes 40% of the African continent’s carbon emissions; as such, it is the largest African carbon emitter and the most carbon-intense significant economy globally. Therefore, outside official COP26 proceedings, the South African government negotiated a long-term partnership with France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union called the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). The Partnership was a response to the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) South Africa submitted, which committed the country to ambitious carbon emissions by 2030 at the official COP26 proceedings. The NDC was South Africa’s best attempt at combatting climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement. The JETP is a landmark program which has presented the PCC (Presidential Climate Commission) with an opportunity for meaningful youth involvement in policy-making by consulting with youth at various stages of the Partnership’s development. The JETP aims to guide South Africa’s energy transition by supporting a move to a low-carbon economy, a more climate-resilient society and a sustainable electricity system.
The PCC intends to ground this transition in a framework- the Just Transition Framework– that serves as a shared vision for all to implement the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan. At its core, the Just Transition Framework speaks to the central requirements of a just transition, including the diversification of the economy, upskilling and reskilling of workers in the non-renewable energy sector, social support and financial mechanism for a green economy. To this effect, the PCC underwent a rigorous stakeholder engagement process that included youth constituencies.
What is a “Just Transition”?
The term “Just Transition” has been abuzz in the climate science, climate action and climate finance spaces in recent times. But the concept has a more extended history originating in the 1970s labour movement; initially, it was centred around the relationship between environmental change on labour, but it has grown to include the implications on communities. It can be described as a strategy that guarantees the transition to green economies and results in positive social impacts for workers and communities. The core motivation is to ensure that no one is left behind. To this effect, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) developed guidelines for a just transition which should form the foundation of decarbonisation efforts. The Just Transition became a priority in global climate policy in December 2018 during the COP24 UN Climate Conference in Katowice, when the Polish Presidency launched the Just Transition Silesia Declaration. The Declaration was signed by over 50 of the convened parties and countries.
The rationale for the just transition is relatively simple. It is the right thing to do. It employs the standards of delivery to achieve a resilient and net-zero economy. Experts have argued that the Just Transition is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the targets set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Figure 1: Pillars of a Just Transition Credit: London School of Economics
Before the Partnership’s launch, South Africa needed to take concrete action toward a just energy transition after decades of heavily critiquing its mining industry‘s unjust labour practices and immense negative environmental impacts. These are only a few aspects of the most unequal country in the world. South African youth, amongst other stakeholders, are awaiting to see whether the JETP Investment Plan intends to outline opportunities for green jobs and plans for a green economy in South Africa.
The PCC JETP Youth Consultations
On August 3rd 2022, The Presidential Climate Commission Secretariat, in collaboration with Youth@SAIIA and the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project partners; the WWF SA, the South African Climate Action Network, and the Institute for Economic Justice; held a preparatory session to capacitate the youth on the inner workings of the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan, ahead of the youth consultation with the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team (PCFTT). The PCC Secretariat gave a presentation, and a discussion was co-facilitated by Crispian Olver, ED, at the PCC Secretariat and Hlengiwe Radebe, Civil Society Engagement Officer at the WWF SA.
The youth engaged robustly with the content that was presented. Youth constituencies inquired about the funding source and the balance of grant vs loan for the proposed investment plan. Steve Nicholls, Head of Mitigation at the PCC Secretariat, explained that the PCFTT is yet to confirm the more nuanced climate finance mechanisms used in the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan.
Moreover, there were questions on considering justice elements in the Just Energy Transition Plan throughout the engagement. A lack of such consideration would be against the guidance provided by the principles of just transitions; no workers should be left behind during efforts to decarbonise the economy, and failure to take into account the socioeconomic standing of workers during such transitions arguably could be unjust. The PCC Secretariat took note of these concerns to communicate them to the PCFTT in constructing the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan.
On August 10th 2022, the PCFTT held a youth consultation as part of their more significant efforts in stakeholder engagement regarding the JETP Investment Plan. The dialogue was their first stakeholder engagement aimed at unpacking the proposed interventions of the JETP, providing progress updates and soliciting views on the JETP Investment Plan(JETP-IP), as guided by the recently adopted Just Transition Framework. Once again, in collaboration with Youth@SAIIA and the Youth Climate Champions Programme team under the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project partners( the WWF South Africa, SACAN and the IEJ. This was a hybrid event; online participants joined via a live stream of the physical event held at the NEDLAC offices. Daniel Mminele, Head of the PCFTT, presented the climate finance aspects of the JETP-IP and the most recent updates available.
The youth asked pertinent questions in the two-hour session that ensued. One of the first questions was about how many youths are in the PCFTT and the criteria for a youth representative on the team. The PCFTT responded by clarifying that, at the moment, there isn’t a youth representative and that the criteria for such an appointment are age and a proven track record. Although this was a concern to the youth in attendance, one in particular voiced a need for youth involvement in national policy processes as the South African youth will be tasked with dealing with the ramifications of the (lack of) climate action.
Moreover, the youth made inquiries into the justice elements of the JETP Investment Plan, and the PCFTT responded that they would make efforts to incorporate them into the JETP Investment Plan. However, specifics could not be elaborated on at the time. Notably, Mminele stated that the JETP is intended to be a catalyst for much more significant change, so both the PCC and the PCFTT endeavour to ensure that further stakeholder engagements occur. In addition, many youths are currently enrolled on studies related to the extractive industry, mining specifically; they made it clear that reskilling and training is something that has to be accounted for in the investment plan so as not to render certain degrees null and void. The PCFTT responded that the JETP Investment Plan would speak to some concerns about reskilling and training for Green Jobs.
In light of the interest in JETP and the policies that informed the JETP Investment Plan(JETP-IP), the PCC Secretariat held a follow-up capacity-building session on the Just Energy Transition Partnership Investment Plan on September 12th, 2022. The urgent need for access to the JETP-IP was a common sentiment among the youth. However, some questioned the feasibility and necessity of investing in electric vehicles, arguing that the JETP should not prioritise such investments early in the energy transition. In addition, there were inquiries into the anti-corruption measures used. The PCC Secretariat deferred many of these questions to the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team, which is in charge of the JETP-IP and is better positioned to speak on various aspects of the JETP-IP and their implications.
A follow-up consultation with the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team on the JETP-IP is yet to be scheduled.
In conclusion, the youth that has participated in the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) Secretariat’s youth engagements through attendance of events and formal submissions for consideration regarding the JETP Investment Plan appear to be either significantly involved in youth-led climate action or interested in youth-led climate action but unaware of how to partake in such climate action and unaware of the significant climate policies at a national and international level. Taking meaningful steps to bring the latter into the fold will be a considerable challenge for the PCCFT should they desire to give youth the chance to influence climate policy. In my opinion, the participation of rural youth has not prioritised these consultations, although approximately a third of the South African population is rural. One of the most limiting factors that youth faced in the engagements was the lack of access to the JETP-IP, as it has not been approved by the Cabinet yet. Having sight of the JETP-IP and further capacitating youth on climate finance should be a top priority where stakeholder engagement on the JETP is concerned.
Moliehi Mafantiri is an Intern: Climate Action and Coordination at the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN). She writes this piece in her capacity as a member of the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project — a joint project of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN) and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ). The project’s objective is to realise the effective participation of South African organisations in climate change governance to ensure enhanced climate policy ambition, implementation and accountability. The project is co-funded by the European Union. This blog is the sole responsibility of the project team and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.