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Climate and Transparency, Accountability & Participation Learning Series
By TAI
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Image Credit: European Space Agency

Session 2: Strengthening transparency, participation and accountability of the Just Energy Transition Partnership – can it be a model for the world? South Africa case study.

On July 21 of 2022, E3G and the Transparency & Accountability Initiative (TAI) co-hosted the second session of the funder learning series ‘Leveraging transparency, participation & accountability to strengthen climate action’. This second session on ‘Strengthening transparency, participation and accountability of the Just Energy Transition Partnership – South Africa case study’ explored areas for collaboration, connection, and knowledge-sharing among funders in the climate and governance spaces.

Participant funders included Laudes Foundation, Ikea Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation, Sequoia Climate Foundation, WINGS, One Project, Porticus, Waverley Street Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Open Society Foundation for South Africa, Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and UK’S Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Speakers: Leo Roberts – Research Manager at E3G. Leo works with research and analytical communities around the world on coal-to-clean energy policy. His areas of expertise include mapping the global distribution of coal power, the politics and policy of renewables deployment, ensuring a just transition for workers and communities, and work on JETPs, stranded assets and carbon capture and storage.

Saliem Fakir – Executive Director of the African Climate Foundation (ACF). Prior to establishing the ACF, Saliem served as the Head of the Policy & Futures Unit of WWF South Africa for 11 years. Saliem has worked as a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public Administration and Planning and an Associate Director for the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy at Stellenbosch University. Prior to that, he served as Director of the World Conservation Union, South Africa (IUCN-SA) for eight years.

Moderator: Justin Sylvester – Senior Program Officer at the Ford Foundation’s South Africa office. Justin is part of the Natural Resources & Climate Change team and has 15 years of experience in the democracy, governance, and human rights arena. His work focuses on public participation, accountability, social justice, and human rights.

Headline messages:

• The traditional multilateral process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) shows a lot of ambition but decarbonization is not occurring at the rate needed. Therefore, new forms, structures, and approaches to accelerate the economy’s decarbonization, such as the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JEPT), are essential.

• The first JETP was launched at COP26, where South Africa, The United States, The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union announced US$8.5 billion in support of the energy transition in South Africa. Similar packages for other countries are currently being considered (e.g., Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and Senegal).

• Success of the South Africa JETP is critical for global energy transition and thus, must build credibility about its ‘just’ aspect.

• How transparent is JETP? Very little is known about what is going on behind the scenes. While stakes are high in political negotiations and dealings, and not all information can be disclosed, there is a strong argument that more transparency would facilitate public participation and accountability.

• There are different motivations bringing the various players to the table. For government donors like UK, US, or Japan, the motivation is to achieve cheap emissions reductions in global south countries. For beneficiary countries, such as South Africa, the motivation is access to finance for development objectives. For other actors involved, the objectives might be even more varied. For the JETP to be successful, all different objectives need to align and all of them need to be achieved. Mapping the diversity of motivations is an essential pre-requisite to success.

• It is essential to see and understand the context in which JETP developed in South Africa, where there was a longstanding discussion about the energy transition. In a 2018 presidential conference the president was pressed to establish a climate commission, an independent, statutory, multistakeholder body to oversee and facilitate a just and equitable transition towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy. This would not have been possible had there not been a shift in politics. As Saliem Fakir from the African Climate Foundation pointed out “history afforded us an opportunity to change the course of the energy transition in South Africa.”

• The risks are high as resistance from different stakeholders is expected. Many people’s lives will be affected during the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, including many people losing their current jobs. This is an unknown territory for many, including for those funding it. While there will be large amounts of investments to create new jobs, enterprises, and new industries, it is unclear who exactly will benefit from these? Which sectors? Which Geographies? Therefore, it is important to include all stakeholders and consider all issues (not just technological issues), such as governance.

• While civil society has not been part of the JETP negotiation process in South Africa, there have been different forms of engagements with CSOs. For instance, there has been engagement with different stakeholders through the Presidential Climate Committee (PCC). At the same time, local participation is weak in coal mining areas around alternative development models as coal phase out happens. An additional challenge is that a lot of what is happening is not well communicated. More needs to be done to bring affected communities to the table and to communicate these processes.

• Several major questions on governance and structure in the context of JETP in South Africa and more broadly include: Who is involved in the process at the country level and how? E.g., which government agencies, labor, unions, or civil society. Who is involved at the donor level? Should private sector organizations be involved? How level is the playing field in these discussions and negotiations? How transparent and open is the process?

Discussion points:

• Just transition component is at risk. There is worry that not enough bilateral money will be allocated to this, and there is little incentive for private finance to step in given the lack of probable return on investment – can philanthropy fill the gap? This is aggravated by the fact that since the Paris Agreement, even committed money has not been materializing. Also, the local participation piece is at risk – involvement of coal mining areas, civil society and business as a whole, needs to be stronger.

• Research found philanthropy is helpful in providing evidence to get policymakers to engage. Plus, philanthropy is successful at getting people around the table – local communities, civil society, workers, governments, academia, and the corporate sector.

• Philanthropy sector can play an important role but it has to understand the local context and sensitivities. In South Africa, initially, none of the original analytical pieces gained traction because of who the messengers were. There was a need to find new interlocutors. Technical experts are not always best placed to manage the political game, so it is important to identify and invest in politically savvy leaders and parties.

• How context specific is just transition process? JETP in South Africa might not be easily transferable to other countries where multistakeholder traditions are not established, or the concept of the just transition is not as well rooted.

• In other countries where feelings are mixed about government commitment to the just energy transition, a good starting point would be to do something similar to what was done on fostering interest in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – namely, mobilizing interest/understanding among local civil society groups and localizing the conversation. This can become a key driver of the just energy transition.

• Historically, philanthropy did a key job in forging links between local groups campaigning against coal projects and those with access to politics and policymaking (e.g., regional and international think tanks). This is a key area in which philanthropy can build the architecture to support the inclusion of affected groups in decisions taking place around tools such as the JETPs. It is time consuming but effective, meaning other funders are unlikely to step in here.

• Support to energy transitions shouldn’t be called “just” if they aren’t. We need to define what “just” means and we should only overlay that term if it meets certain conditions. It will be different what those conditions are country to country. Otherwise, a general risk is that just transition becomes a slippery concept.

Q&A from the chat:

1. What is one issue that you think needs more funder support to achieve just energy transition?

  • Saliem: Alternative development models for post coal, developing investable initiatives that can deliver socio-economic outcomes and mobilizing broad based voices to defend just aspects of the transition.
  • Leo: There continues to be a disconnect between local, sub-national and national groups affected by the JETPs (and other similar mechanisms and processes), and the international community which holds the power and makes key decisions. This is a key area in which philanthropy can build the architecture to support the inclusion of effected groups in decisions taking place around tools such as the JETPs. It is time consuming but effective, meaning other funders are unlikely to step in here.

2. What is your perception of the role of philanthropy in the process to date? Has it been constructive, e.g., enabling participation of more civil society players?

  • Saliem: Philanthropy has been very responsive, willing to take risk and provided the flexible grants to catalyze the JETP and the JT work going on in SA at the moment.
  • Leo: Philanthropy played a key role in recognizing the potential for an ambitious re-modelling of South Africa’s entire energy system and supported initial analysis which eventually (when translated by different messengers) underpinned the whole JETP. This low-ego approach was essential.

3. Are we limiting the ‘just’ transition to the reskilling/ new jobs for the coal miners only in this discussion? What about the broader mine-affected communities?

  • Saliem: The JT cannot be limited to reskilling and new jobs although in the short term they have to be prioritized. We have to locate coal phase out in a wider developmental agenda. It is an opportunity to also ask whether the existing development and investment models are working and delivering an inclusive socio-economic outcome.
  • Leo: No, it’s important that we draw as broad a definition of justice as we can in the JETPs without this undermining their capacity to deliver. Energy consumers, for example, have the right to demand affordable electricity, so there’s a just transition element there. We also need to recognize that in South Africa, the primary affected group (coal miners) are very well organized and tapped into political discourse through unionization, which is not the case for other groups, and may not be the case in other contexts. As a result the JETP dialogues will need to flex to ensure appropriate groups are all included.

4. Is there track record of funding mining affected communities among natural resource governance funders (including many TAI members) that we might draw on?

  • Saliem: I do not know details of what other funders are funding in this arena but there is a lot of activism going on to improve conditions in mining areas.
  • Leo: There definitely seems to be a disconnect between the world of extractives transparency and that of climate philanthropy, and I don’t doubt that principles of good governance and accountability learned from the history of work supporting transparency in mining could be well applied to mechanisms like the JETPs.

5. How much has the JETP package pushed the potential positives of “green jobs” and new renewable industry scale up?

  • Saliem: The entire JETP package is about lifting – on scale – investments in green technology and industrialism.
  • Leo: In South Africa, the package is a full economic restructuring, so it’s not just about closing coal power stations and mines, but about replacing these with clean power to drive economic growth. This represents a huge number of potential clean, safe jobs. There’s a lot of work to date modelling the benefits of the transition from coal to clean in SA, however political and coal lobby pushback often undermines this narrative.

6. What investments are required to enable CSO involvement and over what time periods (from early formulation to implementation)?

  • Saliem: We as ACF have set up something called the ‘NEW Economy Hub’ which is meant to drive local campaigns for economic alternative in the areas that are most likely to be affected by transitions.
  • Leo: As I mentioned earlier, it’s extremely important that an ecosystem exists which connects grassroots and local groups, via national campaigns, into the international political and policy world of think tanks and diplomacy, in order to ensure decisions made in capitals like London and Washington DC benefit those most affected by them. This takes a number of years (2-5) to build, but has excellent results, and philanthropy has a good track record on this – key philanthropic institutions would be well placed to share best practice.

7. Do you know if anyone has done a political economy study or a mapping of all the different interests/incentives around JETP in SA? We have touched on a lot of the different stakeholders and their interests in this call but wondering if it’s documented anywhere.

  • Saliem: We tend to do this at ACF as a perquisite for any grant investments we make. We need to understand the political and stakeholder landscape – we prefer to do some of these assessments ourselves, especially highly sensitive issues, so we do not hire consultants to undertake this. This is just to understand the political channels, but we do commission scoping work and we are looking to do that for the coal mining areas soon just to appreciate the local context better and begin to understand how the political landscape will influence decision making and the strategy to get something done on the ground. We have a political strategy that is defined and termed by us as the stakeholder’s six degree of influence (meaning how far or close are they to influencing events and outcomes).
  • Leo: Yes, these have been done at various points through the process, and by various actors. The challenge is that I don’t think analysis has been done of the whole JETP system, only the South African end. This means the political economy of the donor governments and international institutions isn’t clear, despite them having complex agendas and motivations that will have a tangible impact on how large-scale finance is allocated and disbursed.

8. Are there any democratic processes at the national or local level being discussed that will allow people to set priorities for funding (referendum, assemblies, or participatory forum)? Is there a collaborative effort by philanthropy at the national level in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, or Senegal to support just transition or is this only happening in South Africa?

  • Saliem: In South Africa there are some discussions to establish informal and formal processes of engagements – we are getting requests from unions, CSO and NGOs including local government. We believe this is the next layer of support that must be built or strengthened. In Nigeria and Senegal, we are already funding convenings around JT transitions, working with local activist and think tank groups.

Next steps:

• The African Climate Foundation will host a learning session late September to engage with SA experience
• E3G to invite interested participants to join ongoing discussions facilitated by E3G between civil society and philanthropy – including Climate Commissioners, and the donor governments around the JETPs. The next call is likely to take place in September. E3G is also coordinating a wider process of CSO/Philanthropic alignment around the JETPs, which will likely lead to working groups on different cross-cutting themes – including participatory rights, and individual country JETPs.

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