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Understanding the Integrated Resource Plan

The latest version of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2023), which details how estimated electricity demand will be supplied in the future, was recently put out for public comment. This document has drawn criticism from civil society and players in the energy sector for needing to be sufficiently progressive in the context of climate change and the need for nations to decarbonise and embrace a just energy transition.

As many people are not fully familiar with the IRP and its purpose, the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project (CAAP) recently hosted an online webinar to explain its significance, particularly for the future of work in South Africa. CAAP is a partnership between WWF South Africa, Climate Action Network South Africa, and the Institute for Economic Justice which is co-funded by the European Union and the Swedish government. The speakers were Dr Bonani Seteni, a Climate and Energy specialist at WWF South Africa, Gabrielle Knott, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Francinah Nkosi, an activist at Waterberg Women Advocacy Organisation. Overall the discussion was aimed at helping young people understand and engage with the draft IRP 2023, and position themselves for future work opportunities. 

Ms Knott revealed that the draft IRP 2023 showed continuous support of the fossil fuel energy system, which was evident in the document’s poor commitment towards renewable energy, despite the negative impact imposed on the society and environment.  Testament to the impact of the document was Ms Nkosi’s shared lived experiences of communities in rural areas near Thabametsi and Medupi coal-fired power stations in Limpopo. She shared how communities are impacted by air pollution leading to  health issues and increased deaths. Due to load shedding and the high cost of electricity, the communities are also plagued by energy poverty and water inequalities. This further highlighted the draft IRP 2023 role in exacerbating socio-economic issues by supporting a costly, unsustainable fossil fuel system and disregarding intersecting issues. 

Dr Seteni called for the development of an Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) to inform the IRP as it offers a more comprehensive view of the whole energy sector and does not focus on electricity alone. An active IEP would ensure that the IRP is sensitive to intersecting issues and that it aligns with policies and national planning. He said the draft IRP 2023 is inadequate in addressing South Africa’s energy crisis and its current support of the fossil fuel system hinders the potential benefits of a renewable energy system. Regardless of South Africa’s poor commitment to renewable energy, opportunities still present themselves as nations worldwide embrace developing green technology, and the youth is offered an opportunity to position themselves to capitalise on the opportunities ahead. 

Dr Seteni predicted a boom in employment in the manufacturing sector for nations in pursuit of the means for deploying renewable energy technology. He urged young people  to acquire the necessary skills in alignment with the technology that will be adopted in the future, as climate action drives countries to adopt more renewable energy systems.

To realize the success of the just energy transition a comprehensive social-political transformation is required and without such a transformation the progression of a just energy transition is condemned because a shallow transition does nothing to transform the vested interest structure that will resist change. This will prioritize ideas serving society’s interests over those of dominant elites, promoting inclusive growth and development.

In closing, the seminar concluded that green technology is the future, driven by climate action, and the sooner South Africa realises this the sooner the nation can be positioned to fully capitalise on the opportunities that the new renewable energy system presents for everyone.

Lupumlo Ngcukana is an intern at the Institute for Economic Justice. 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 Climate Action Network South Africa (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 European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency co-funded the project. This blog is the sole responsibility of the project team and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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