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Just Transition: a fair way forward

The path to climate neutrality is posing huge challenges for many regions around the world. GIZ is working to make the transition socially equitable.

What is a just transition?

Our world needs to become climate neutral. We can only manage this if we radically change the way we live, and gear our lifestyle towards sustainability. The costs and benefits of this transition must be equitably spread. A just transition aims to tangibly improve people’s living conditions while at the same time drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If this is to work out in a way that is socially equitable, it is important to ensure that particularly hard hit groups benefit from the new potential and that they are involved in decision-making processes.

The South African province of Mpumalanga will face major changes over the coming decades. This is where 80 per cent of all South African coal is mined. The entire region depends on this sector of the economy. However, coal reserves are finite and the country is also aiming to become climate neutral by 2050. That means an end to fossil fuels. As a consequence, Mpumalanga will have to cope with more than just the loss of the 100,000 jobs in the industry itself. Indirectly, over one million people are dependent on the coal industry. This structural change needs to be shaped well in advance.

To give people in Mpumalanga the chance of a better future, GIZ is working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) to facilitate a just transition. The goal is to generate green value and create green jobs. The central question is what jobs the miners, coal industry employees and other people in the region can perform in future. HGV drivers who transport coal, people who sell their goods around coal-fired power stations, cooks, farmers, teachers – they all depend on the people and money that the coal industry brings to the region.

Green jobs for a green economy

On that basis, GIZ is organising retraining courses and working with partner organisations to find investors willing to develop new, future-oriented industries, such as in agriculture, ecotourism and the field of renewable energy. GIZ is also helping small businesses and start-ups to establish sustainable business models.

‘The scale of this challenge is massive. Many people in Mpumalanga are facing problems at a basic needs level, so we have to deliver results urgently. Collaborating with new and existing companies to create sustainable jobs is therefore an essential part of our work,’ explains Mike Mulcahy, CEO of GreenCape. It is one of six South African organisations with which GIZ is implementing the project.

Photo: Four people standing around a solar panel illuminated by a lamp.
© GIZ / photothek

In this video, our expert, Birgit Seibel, explains GIZ’s holistic approach to the just transition.

Portrait photo: Birgit Seibel.

»Structural change in coal-mining regions has economic, social and environmental impacts. GIZ has such a wide range of expertise that we are able to deliver holistic advisory services to our partners.«

Birgit Seibel,
GIZ expert on the just transition
© Birgit Seibel

Holistic approach in South Africa

In Mpumalanga, GIZ can build on its long-standing experience in areas closely related to the just transition, including renewable energy, social protection and technical and vocational education and training. On behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ), GIZ is actively engaged in supporting a just transition through South Africa’s energy sector. More solar plants and greater energy efficiency have already helped avoid the emission of over 80,000 tonnes CO₂ equivalent, as well as creating job opportunities. Since a greener economy also needs green jobs, GIZ is helping South Africa train young people for these careers. A just transition is only possible when all these different areas are interconnected. This is also the goal of the Just Energy Transition Partnership established in 2021 by South Africa, Germany, France, the UK, the USA and the EU.

In other parts of the world too, we are making this expertise available to different clients. For instance, GIZ is working on behalf of BMWK to realise a just transition in Indonesia. In the interview below, Nithi Nesadurai from our partner organisation CANSEA explains the priorities we set with our partners.

Portrait photo: Nithi Nesadurai.
© Nithi Nesadurai

»Climate justice is at the heart of our work«

Interview with Nithi Nesadurai, Director of the Climate Action Network Southeast Asia (CANSEA)

Why are CANSEA and GIZ working together with Indonesia on a just transition?

Indonesia is one of the largest coal exporters in the world, and coal is also the most important energy source within the country. Many people are dependent on the coal industry. However, the government is aiming for a low-carbon economy, and it wants to phase out coal completely by 2040. For this structural change to succeed, a socially just plan is needed.

»It is particularly important that we hear the voices of those on the margins of society.«

Nithi Nesadurai, Director of
the Climate Action Network Southeast

How can this change succeed without the people in the coal regions being left behind? And how can you contribute to this with CANSEA?

At CANSEA the issue of climate justice is at the heart of our work. Everyone should benefit equally from the opportunities. Together with the people affected, we want to develop a vision of what good, sustainable jobs can look like for them. And also how they can be safeguarded through fair labour and social policies. In this context, it is particularly important that we hear the voices of those on the margins of society.

How do you see the role of GIZ?

In order to gain access to the affected groups, we need to work with civil society organisations that already have a trusting exchange with them. But there are many other actors involved in the project, such as representatives of government and local administrations, industry, and the scientific and research community. I therefore see GIZ’s role as that of a conductor who brings together all those involved. This is what GIZ has already done in the run-up, and this is also what we expect and hope for the actual implementation of the measures in the coming years.