Coal end-date key to EU-South Africa just transition success

Posted on 02 November 2021

The EU’s plan to support South Africa’s phasing out of coal in favour of renewables sounds promising.
But its success will hinge upon South Africa committing to no new coal and - eventually - setting a realistic but ambitious coal end date.

Earlier today at the COP26 summit, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the ‘Just Energy Transition Partnership’. The UK, US, France and Germany are also part of it. 

Coal-fuelled plants supplied nearly 90% of South Africa's electricity last year

For the time being it is not clear what exactly the EU will do to support South Africa, although the partnership intends to mobilise an initial commitment of $8.5 billion. It will be important that technical support and capacity-building - to set up the right frameworks to guide that spending - are offered too.

Katie Treadwell, Energy Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office said:
“In the EU we see that setting a clear, science-based end-date for coal, providing financial support for affected communities, and ensuring open, inclusive planning ensures a smoother transition for all concerned. These lessons must be reflected in the EU’s work in the new partnership, which should kick-start discussions on an end year for coal in South Africa, and on how to get there.”

In Greece, the announcing of a 2028 coal phase-out date triggered a speeding up of the process which now looks to be nearly complete by 2023. In Bulgaria, on the other hand, the lack of a phase out date has been causing delay - meaning communities have no idea whether or how they will be supported through a future shift away from coal. 

U.N. secretary general Antonio Guterres has called on all rich countries to stop burning coal by 2030, and for poorer countries to do so by 2040.

Prabhat Upadhyaya, senior policy analyst on climate at WWF South Africa said:
"This is indeed welcome news. It also reflects the recognition of the work that has been carried out by the South African Presidential Climate Commission and the enhanced NDC submitted by South Africa. We recognise that this is a first important step on the path to a resilient and net-zero South African economy. The next challenge for South Africa will be to develop concrete plans and commensurate institutional capacity.”

Marcene Mitchell, Senior Vice President for Climate Change at WWF-US said:
"We are at an inflection point in the efforts to tackle the climate crisis and we are pleased to see the United States join this partnership with South Africa, the United Kingdom and the European Union and others at this critical moment. It offers hope that we can reach our climate goals. For that hope to become a reality, it will require an unprecedented decarbonisation effort that touches the entire economy, sees tangible action from the South African government, and involves every sector of society. Alongside this significant support from the United States and others, Alliance for Climate Action South Africa, a national network of businesses, local governments and partner organizations committed to climate action, stands ready to support the country’s efforts to achieve a net carbon neutral economy for South Africa by 2050. This coalition provides a blueprint for effective collaboration across institutions that will jumpstart South Africa’s efforts to begin implementation of this encouraging partnership."

“For a really impactful partnership that can drive forward just transitions in South Africa and contribute to a truly just energy transformation globally, the EU and partners must go further. We need to see real cooperation and just energy transformation consistent action in terms of financing to sustainable sectors, technological transfer and an approach that is economy-wide,” added Treadwell.

At 11:00 GMT on 4 November, WWF is launching at COP26 its report on achieving a “Just Energy Transformation” worldwide. Speakers include Frances O'Grady - Secretary-General, TUC, Sean De Cleene, World Economic Forum Executive Committee member, Vanessa Perez Cirera - Global Deputy Lead for Climate and Energy, WWF and the moderator is Professor Jim Skea - Chair of Scottish Just Transition Commission and Co-chair of Working Group III of the IPCC. More information

Sarah Azau
Communications manager, WWF European Policy Officer 
Tel: +32 473 573 137
Grey go-away-bird (Corythaixoides concolor) taking off from its perch as the sun sets at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa.
© Rex Lu / WWF