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  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien


Fair, Meaningful and Sustainable Change: A Just Transition Report

05 March 2020 at 8:00 am

Johannesburg, South Africa:  groundWork, Friends of Earth South Africa together with its Life After Coal (LAC) partners the Centre for Environmental Rights and EarthLife Africa JHB launch their 2019 report titled Down to Zero: The politics of just transition.

A just transition has become a central talking point from the United Nations to the streets of Mpumalanga, where coal defines life. The Down to Zero report documents the situation as it stands and calls for system change.

The report highlights the detrimental effects of capitalism’s obsession with fossil fuel. A just transition means a break with, and within, the present order by creating a shared vision of a different future. The report speaks to the urgent need to respond to climate change, create a truly democratic and participatory order, and share our work and the wealth of the land.

Parts of our country have become hotter and drier, climate health impacts are escalating, and we have experienced floods that have not only wrecked homes but taken many lives too.

The chaotic and unplanned shift away from coal as observed and experienced around Arnot and Hendrina in Mpumalanga, two of the six power stations due for decommissioning before 2030, serves to highlight the importance of a meaningful shift. What will the workers do? How will they fend for themselves and their families? Is the current system ready or being prepared to reskill workers and take them along into the very near future? Will local communities be left with the toxic legacy of Eskom’s ash dumps? In this transition, will poor people have access to clean and affordable energy? These are not all, but some of the questions we should be asking those in power.

The Down to Zero report makes clear suggestions on what effective actions need to be taken for a fair transition to take place:

  • rapidly reduce fossil fuel burning and hence emission to zero
  • look to the survival of the people through our democratic organisation and common control of resources
  • restore the land and its capacity to absorb and store carbon, including through the way we grow food
  • claim the climate debt owed by the north to south and rich to poor

Finance minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech failed to give a sense of urgency and direction needed on climate mitigation. It made no attempt to align in any way with the minister of environmental affairs’ promise to tackle the climate crisis, nor did it give substance to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reference to climate justice in the state of the nation address. And he simply ducked the question of Eskom. We are left with the impression of a rudderless government incapable of addressing the crisis of the times.

The report also shows that taking care of the earth is essential to a meaningful and sustainable shift towards a more equal society but also that social justice is required for a credible climate response. As we transition, no one should be left behind. If the transition serves to protect the benefit of the few, it will not be a just transition. Nor will it mitigate the climate crisis.


“We have a just transition in our Integrated Resource Plan – although Minister Gwede Mantashe appears to be using the just transition as a brake on renewable, but government is not pursuing it with urgency”, Bobby Peek Director at groundWork.

“Constitutional human rights need to be the guardrails for the transition away from fossil fuels – a transition that is inevitable and already underway. Particularly because this transition is now forced upon us in a context of extreme inequality, if we fail to consider human rights, the results will be disastrous for social and environmental justice . With this report, our partner groundWork has started to build those guardrails that must take us to a more just, equal and sustainable society where rights and justice matter”, Melissa Fourie Director at the Centre for Environmental Rights.


Note to editor
Life After Coal is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa JohannesburggroundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights. The partnership aims to discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.

Tsepang Molefe
GroundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
[email protected]

David Hallowes
groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
+27 83 262 4922
[email protected]

Lerato Balendran
Centre for Environmental Rights
[email protected]

Victor Munnik
+27 82 906 3699
[email protected]