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South Africa must lead at COP27, and accelerate the Just Transition at home

5 November 2022 at 7:57 pm

Photo: Chris De Beer Procter
Photo: Chris De Beer Procter

With the Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP27 underway in Sharm el-Sheikh, the LAC campaign – which includes Earthlife Africa, groundWork and the Centre for Environmental Rights, calls on the South African government to play a leading role at COP27, and to stand in solidarity with developing and climate vulnerable countries, particularly those on the African continent, on a range of issues.

The Campaign also calls on the South African government to do what is necessary at home to meet the lower bound of our own climate target range by progressing the Just Transition and the coal phase-out, and accelerating the roll-out of public, private and socially-owned renewable energy.


In light of the fact that global carbon emissions have continued to rise during 2022, that governments across the world have continued to approve new fossil fuel developments, and financial institutions have continued to finance and invest in fossil fuel developments, the LAC campaign calls on the SA government to advance the following specific objectives at COP27. The campaign calls on the government to:

  • Support a new vision for Africa’s development – one which is not fossil fuel dependent, but which creates clean energy access for all without locking Africa and its people into expensive, polluting and unnecessary coal, gas and oil infrastructure.
  • Align South Africa with the understanding that the global energy crisis, predicated by the invasion of Ukraine, is not a clean energy crisis, but is the result of an over-dependence on fossil fuels, as confirmed by the head of the International Energy Agency and others. The solution is not to reopen coal plants and to lock in gas, but rapidly to expand renewable energy capacity.
  • Hold major emitting countries – including the United States, European Union member countries, Australia, India and China – to their climate commitments. What is currently on the table in terms of global NDCs is wholly insufficient to keep the world to average global warming of not more than 1.5 degrees, and many of these countries continue to grant new licences for coal, oil, and gas projects. For the Paris Agreement and COP27 to have any legitimacy, such flagrant disregard of the survival of millions of people must end.
  • Reject and withdraw from participation in carbon trading under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This is a false solution that does not reduce emissions, but transfers the Global North’s climate debt to the Global South.
  • Reject the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a climate response. This, too, is a false solution which is untested at scale, and simply creates a pretence for continuing to extract and use fossil fuels. Resist any attempts to introduce and legitimise geo-engineering as a climate response.
  • Demand reparations for climate impacts in the global South caused by the global North. Such reparations include a dramatic scale-up of climate finance commitments, and delivery against those commitments by developed countries, for low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries. It also includes prioritising and putting into operation a Global Goal on Adaptation, and securing long-term finance for adaptation in developing countries.

“At COP27, we need to see developed countries agreeing to the establishment of a loss and damage funding facility, as well as to effective institutional arrangements in order to operationalise the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage which is intended to ensure technical assistance for LMIC countries,” says Brandon Abdinor, CER Climate Advocacy Lawyer.


Only the lower bound of South Africa’s 2021 Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target range is broadly consistent with the 1.5°C pathway (having regard to South Africa’s “fair share”, which takes into account common but differentiated responsibility) if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Meeting the lower bound of the target range is also what South Africa indicated it would do with adequate climate finance such as is being negotiated as part of the Just Energy Transition Partnership, or JETP.

To meet that lower bound target within the timeframes set, urgent action must start now. The most pressing actions include dramatically scaling up and accelerating our renewable energy build, creating binding, effective and enforceable emissions reduction mechanisms, disclosing detailed and publicly accessible GHG emissions reduction management tools, cancelling all new coal projects, avoiding massive new gas infrastructure projects that modelling has shown we do not need in the future.

The Life After Coal campaign calls for zero fossil fuels in electricity generation by 2040 at the latest, and a zero fossil fuel economy by 2050. This means accelerating the retirement of our coal fleet at a rate faster than that prescribed by the timetable in the IRP 2019.

“Coal pollution is killing our people and destroying their health. This is a gross Constitutional and human rights violation that cannot continue,” says Thomas Mnguni, groundWork coal campaigner.

Finally, the campaign calls for climate finance to support the transformation of our economy from one that is heavily reliant on coal, to one that is free of fossil fuels, over the next several decades. Any climate finance deal, including the JETP and associated finance deals, must be transparent, and must be the best deal for South Africa. It must put coal communities and coal workers first, and help address inequality, poverty and unemployment.  Such finance must be linked to accelerated decarbonisation, address climate mitigation and adaptation, Eskom debt, and the Just Transition – but cannot include any funding for new fossil fuels, including new gas.

“Overall, the South African government must accelerate a broad and inclusive Just Transition from coal and other fossil fuels. The Life After Coal campaign has published a Just Transition Open Agenda which sets out the key tenets of such a just transition, which not only secures a coal phase-out, but does so in a way that achieves a fair outcome for workers and communities, including in particular women and youth and that gives effect to Constitutional rights, including the right to equality; and that makes our country and our communities more climate resilient,” says  Michelle Cruywagen, groundWork, Senior Just Transition and Coal Campaign Manager.


Given South Africa’s vulnerability to climate change impacts, #COP27 is an opportunity for the country and the continent to esscelarate ambitions and take a lead towards climate adaption and mitigation plans that will benefit all people and the planet. For the first time, CER has sent a delegation to #COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. 

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Lerato Balendran, Centre for Environmental Rights: [email protected] +27 79 071 7442