How just is the just transition?

Ambassador Bheki Gila says the rate at which just transition should occur, and to what degree of intensity, has not yet been determined. Picture: Supplied

Ambassador Bheki Gila says the rate at which just transition should occur, and to what degree of intensity, has not yet been determined. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 5, 2023


By Bheki Gila

SOUTH Africa is in the middle of a gripping conversation about transitioning away from fossil fuels, arguably to energy resources ineluctably dubbed renewable or sustainable. Or rather, going by the sophistry of the well-tutored, sustainably renewable.

How fast such a transition should occur, and to what degree of intensity, has not yet been determined.

One thing is certain, however: Just like the urgent climate change themes requiring pressing attention, the paths leading to the public discourse of how just, partly just or wholly unjust these transitioning measures should unfurl, will likely be so grossly perverted they are unrecognisable, leaving it fit and deserving only for those lobbyists backed by aggressive Western military powers.

How did we get here, one may ask. Empirically, it could be said that when democracy is stressed, politicians are compromised and the restless masses deserve appeasement, then the primordial instincts of the politicians are bound to erupt.

What, pray tell, were the peremptories that compelled the South African delegation to COP26 in Glasgow to oblige the conspiratorial entreaties of the US and Europeans, exchanging $8 billion as they shook hands in parting. It doesn’t matter.

There are two apparent features of our democracy. They are secrecy and danger. And so we shall incline towards the former. The less we know, the less danger we are exposed to.

All things considered, it is indeed a moot point as to how value-free are innocuous sounding concepts such as just transition.

Hitherto, even other mind-numbing contraptions, like rules-based order, conceive of a façade without order, designed by a hegemony that has no desire to obey the same rules, nor wholly commit to conform to organisations designed to maintain the pretence.

To be sure, experience teaches us that justice is not for everyone, nor has it been imagined to accommodate those dwelling on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

This is because it is the lived experience of most Africans that justice is expensive, inaccessible, protracted and, as if by design, incomprehensible. And it certainly is the case that justice and the precepts that define its path, are never in transition.

The brilliant minds of Good Governance Africa, in their eminent publication Africa in Fact, posit that there are six hundred million Africans who, in the publisher’s own words, do not have access to electricity at all.

It would seem in all probability that what they need more, is electricity from any source. For them, justice is not in transition. It is in the accessing of a human right.

It only occurs to an observer that the most vociferous proponents for just transition are the ones to watch the most keenly.

They are for all intents and purposes well meaning, and like the better part of humanity, desirous of guarantees that capitalism shall not, in its excesses, leave our planet and its environment uninhabitable.

They have, however, failed us in so many respects. For some reason, they are woefully incapable of follow-up when powerful agents of the G7 make financial pledges towards just transition.

Being the same principalities that fund them, they are disinclined to pressure them for delivery. And to do all of us a favour, they should desist from coming to these palavers with petrol-guzzling monsters.

The smell of hypocrisy is more vile and putrid than the 14 billion years of the rot of fossils.

Why is it, if they are prepared to share, that the casual definition of the environment has in some twist of diction been restricted to mean either floods or drought.

Humans, especially those residing in depressed economic settings, are muted out of the equation, raising the quintessential philosophic question: How did we get to this point?

Since the beginning of time, life and its many forms of continuity only meant that life is about humans. And when humans are not in the equation, life would sadly lose its essence and fundamental purpose.

Humanity’s hope is that with so much egregious disregard for commitment by the Global North, which is emblematic of their deep disdain of any pursuit for energy transitional initiatives that could result in just outcomes, something must change, and urgently.

It must be noted that the common man’s idea of this project, it would seem, is that the emphasis on this transition must be in justice. Not so with big capital. They are not convinced that there is profit in justice.

After all, in their view, this is just a transition. And nothing is expected to be just about it!

* Ambassador Bheki Gila is a Barrister-at-Law