Analysis: Global aid agreements to end coal urged to put workers first and transparency first

  • New $8.5 billion package for South Africa to deliver global lessons
  • More coal-rich emerging nations hope for a ‘just transition’ deal
  • Request for funding to benefit vulnerable workers and communities

BARCELONA, Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rich countries are turning on the financing tap to help emerging coal-dependent economies transition to clean energy – but it must be done in a transparent way, including workers and communities who stand to lose their income, politicians and analysts say.

$8.5 billion partnership announced at November’s COP26 climate summit to wean South Africa off coal, backed by Britain, the United States, Germany, France and the European Union , at raises hopes of similar agreements for India, Indonesia and others.

This week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the World Economic Forum that countries with coal-based energy mixes face “tremendous structural obstacles” and need help to transition to clean energy.

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“To help key emerging economies accelerate the transition, I call for the creation of coalitions of countries, public and private financial institutions, investment funds and companies with the technological know-how to provide support financial and technical focus,” Guterres said in a speech.

The Indonesian and Vietnamese governments have recently announced their intention to phase out coal and adopt more renewable energy, he noted, while South Africa has now established a just energy transition partnership for go beyond coal.

The donor-backed Climate Investment Fund launched another $2.5 billion funding program at COP26 to help South Africa, India, Indonesia and the Philippines to phase out coal power in a faster and socially fair way.

Bim Afolami, a Conservative Party politician in Britain who brokered the headline-grabbing South African package, told reporters this week that other ‘just transition’ partnerships were in the works. elaboration, but did not provide further details.

Money pledged at UN talks in Glasgow will fund South Africa’s efforts to reduce its climate change emissions and pursue a green transition that provides support for workers and vulnerable groups, especially miners coal, women and young people.

But the hard work to decide how this will happen has only just begun, with the structure and operations of the donor partnership to be defined in the coming months.

Afolami stressed the importance of showing “how we do it”, with the aim of building public confidence and “so that people can get an idea of ​​what we are trying to achieve”.


Ani Dasgupta, president and CEO of the US-based World Resources Institute (WRI), said that with such significant funding on the table for South Africa, there was a need to make the process ” as transparent as possible.

This would allow other countries to learn from it and be motivated to seize opportunities if they arise, he noted.

Another reason to clarify how the money is used is to ensure that frontline communities that will be impacted by moving away from fossil fuels receive their fair share and the help they need, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In many countries, coal-fired power generation is owned and operated by the wealthiest groups in society, Dasgupta noted.

“We don’t want a situation where the (just transition) deal results in the same rich – who benefited from the past system and polluted the world – also benefiting from this deal,” he added. .

Discussions of the economics of zeroing global heating emissions often focus on key figures of how many millions of jobs will be created in solar or wind energy versus those that may be lost. in coal, gas and oil.

But those numbers don’t reflect the realities of workers facing an uncertain future, Dasgupta said.

More locally relevant pictures of how the green transition will unfold need to be constructed, by gathering employment and demographic data, for example, he added.

“We have a discussion about the absolute number of jobs…and it should be a discussion about family,” he said. “Let’s not make it more abstract than necessary.”


One of the main problems facing those working to ensure a “just” energy transition is that the best locations for new clean energy installations – such as solar power plants or offshore wind farms – are not often not the same places where the use of fossil fuels is lost.

That’s why coalitions of governments, unions, communities and businesses are being set up to plan alternative futures for specific regions in countries like Britain, Spain and Canada.

South Africa, the 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has won the first major international “just transition” partnership not only because of its heavy dependence on coal energy and its objectives of reducing carbon pollution, but because it is growing political and public support for change.

British officials noted that the miners’ union had accepted the need for change, that electricity utility Eskom had drawn up a “just energy transition” plan and that a national strategy was being drawn up by the Presidential Climate Commission.

Bernice Lee, research director at UK think tank Chatham House, said the task now was to come up with a workable plan to retire old coal-fired power stations and bring new renewables on stream while creating job opportunities.

“If last year was all about the headlines, this year will be all about details and details of policies and measures,” she said.

How partnering with donors is perceived in South Africa – by politicians, businesses and the public – will also be critical, WRI’s Dasgupta said in an interview.

Days after COP26, President Cyril Ramaphosa told lawmakers in his country that South Africa would only agree to the $8.5 billion deal if the terms suited national goals such as reducing debt and job creation. He said most of the money should come from grants.

Dasgupta said wealthy governments funding such partnerships need to be mindful of “internal politics” and let countries moving away from coal take the lead in shaping how the transition plays out within their borders.


As efforts begin to translate South Africa’s just transition agreement from paper to reality this year, broader issues of global justice in climate finance should not be overlooked, policy experts have warned.

The new partnership has raised eyebrows among small developing states hit hard by extreme weather and rising seas, as wealthy countries’ pledge of $100 billion a year to help them tackle climate change has not was not held.

“It’s becoming quite clear that some developing countries are a bit grumpy that the big emerging economies could absorb a lot of the $100 billion,” Chatham House’s Lee said.

She and Dasgupta called for greater attention in 2022 for more balanced funding, including Boost currently low funding levels essential measures to adapt to a warming world and to deal with the loss and damage already caused.

“We don’t want to reproduce the divisions of the past in the solutions of the future,” Dasgupta said.

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Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; edited by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit

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