Reflections on the NPC Stakeholder Dialogue

By Richard Pfaff (EMG)

On Thursday the 24th of May the National Planning Commission (NPC) held an engagement with stakeholders on the Just Transition process. What follows is a reflective summary of this particular engagement.

The context and purpose of the engagement was articulated by the National Commissioner Tasneem Essop. Several important points were made.
Firstly, an explanation of the reasoning behind the methodology of the process was given. Most pertinent was the concurrent sets of engagements with two groups. There is what is referred to as a ‘High Level Panel’ and then the Broader stakeholder group. This method was questioned by the audience and some queried as to who are on the High-Level panel and how were they selected. Upon further explanation from the Commissioner, it was revealed that the High-level panel had effectively set the themes of engagement for the day’s proceedings. These themes were Water, Energy and Land Use. It was revealed that the High-Level Panel was composed of nine representatives each from Civil Society, Labour, Government and Business. This was of course in line with the groupings demarcated by the NDP as those who effectively make up a Social Compact. It was also revealed that the initial meeting of the High-Level Panel was not well attended, and neither Business, Labour or Government had sent a sizeable delegation. It seems that those three grouping are utilising NEDLAC to engage in the Just Transition process. It was also put forth that the outcomes of the Broader Stakeholder engagement was to be utilised to bolster the NPC’s engagement at the NEDLAC negotiations.
The lack of serious community participation and engagement was then highlighted as a major flaw in the proposed consultative methodology. While the Commissioner retorted that the initial NDP process was very participatory, there was an acknowledgement that the process around (essentially chapter five of the NDP) the Just Transition, could do with further and deeper community-based engagement. It was then suggested by the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) that there be a partnership and cost sharing between SAFSC, the NPC and perhaps other interested NGO’s to assist where possible with community consultation around the Transition. There was agreement by the Commissioner and she said that the NPC would be open to such an endeavour.
Further there were a few other pertinent points, namely that the original timeline of the transition in the NDP (published in 2012) was that the Transition would be by 2030. It has now been moved to 2050. It is concerning that there has been no empirical costing done in terms of the allowance of emissions at the current and proposed rates. In terms of the proposed rates of allowed emissions, there is really only incremental proposed shifts in the rates over the extended 20 years and thus there will only be marginal shifts in emissions. The stakeholder group was not given any reasons for the basis of this decision to move the timeline and how much damage the cumulative emissions and associated industrial pollution will cost future generations. This was also the case with the National Adaptation Strategy (NAS), in that there is no real costing being done in terms of the overall effects beyond those to the normative (or formal) economy. This was concerning as the majority of South Africans do not function, or take part, in the normative or formal economy. There are several concurrent economies in South Africa, namely the women’s economy (based on women’s unpaid labour contributions), the unemployed economy (in which the majority of South Africans participate given our high unemployment rates), the working class economy, the middle class, the elite and the 1%. All have different needs and desires when it comes to the Transition. Thus, South Africa does not have an orthodox economy, but rather a heterodox economy, and therefore it will need a Transition process that understands and even privileges this heterodoxy.
The stakeholders were then asked to discuss the emerging issues in smaller groups. Group work was split into two sessions. The first was shared themes in terms of what is the vision for 2050, how can our country achieve this vision, and how can such a transition benefit and be inclusive of the poor; while the second was focused on particular themes which participants could choose from, namely Water, Energy and Land Use.
During the feedback to the group sessions, the point was raised the point that the economic modality of 2050 would have to be far less energy dependant than proposed by the so-called energy mix forwarded by the government for 2050. It was argued that since South Africa inhabits a closed space, with finite resources – which we are consuming at an unsustainable rate – as well as an ever-expanding human population, the regulating principle of the future economic modality would have to be ecology. If the present rate of hyper-consumption of energy continues, as a nation we have no clear concept of what could happen – thus, it is imperative that we move away from the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The Carbon Tax Act was also discussed as fundamentally flawed in terms of the enormous concession rates for emitters and the measly punitive amount per metric ton levied on polluters. There was consensus amongst many that civil society should be more vocal and agitate around the lack of real punitive measures of the Act.
In the feedback, the point was also raised that communities should have greater control over the natural resources in their vicinities. This should include control over water sources and capture, and independent renewable energy production and storage. There was general consensus reached in the groups concerning this point. In conjunction there was great concern expressed by many over the centralisation by the State to control these resources and the movement towards the privatisation of these resources.
We await the report and the way forward.
On behalf of EMG I would like to express my appreciation to our colleagues at Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) and OneWorld Sustainable Investments for convening this process and enabling participation in this consultative workshop.

For more on the NPC Just Transition, see Chapter 5 of the NPC Energy Paper