The world is at a tipping point in the fight against climate change. The cascade of pledges by countries and companies to reduce their carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 is heralding a tidal shift in the global energy production. An energy transition in which energy production will predominantly be based on sustainable and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

The imminent energy transition will benefit our planet and people. It will help mitigate the inevitable climate change the world will face over the coming centuries. The energy transformation will affect the lives of billions of people, and governments will need to ensure the transition is socially just. We need to put people at the centre of our green transition policies and involve them in the process. This will require proactive industrial policy, active labour market policies, and social protection measures.

As highlighted by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his state of the nation address, we must take into account that the transition affects towns and communities. Governments must find ways to address the social and economic impacts of clean energy transitions on individuals and communities. Our energy policies will only be truly successful if they ensure people benefit from the changes, and that they protect those that might be vulnerable to them. This is especially urgent as countries grapple with the huge damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic to lives and livelihoods.

In partnership with the International Energy Agency, Denmark is convening a new global commission that aims to put people at the centre of our energy transition policies. “Our Inclusive Energy Future” is bringing together government leaders, key decision-makers and scientists to examine how to make these transitions equitable and successful. The commission will deliver its recommendations in time for the COP26 climate change conference, at which they will be an important aspect of the critical discussions about climate action.

I am delighted that SA has joined this high-level global commission on a people-centred, just transition. SA has a lot to offer to the work of the commission. The idea of such a transition was addressed in a position paper on climate change, adopted by union federation Cosatu, in August 2011. The paper took a proactive stance on climate policy, embracing the need to transition to a low-carbon economy but, at the same time, advocating that workers and generally vulnerable stakeholders be prioritised in the country’s transition.

With Eskom’s in-principle commitment to net-zero emission by 2050 and dwindling demand globally for coal, SA will have to introduce policies that can replace some of the 40,000 jobs in the coal industry in Mpumalanga

The imperative of a people-centred, just transition already features in both the Integrated Resource Plan and the 2019 Roadmap for Eskom in a Reformed Electricity Supply Industry. As SA will be introducing further policies to ensure a people-centred transition, I am convinced the country can contribute to and benefit from joint deliberations on how the transition to clean energy can create new jobs and career opportunities, improve skills development, increase technology transfer and, in general, enhance people’s lives and bring them the benefits of reliable, affordable and clean energy.

In Denmark, we are keen to learn from SA experiences of a people-centred, just transition. In December, the Danish government announced it would stop exploration for new oil and gas in the North Sea, with a complete production stop by 2050. A lot of jobs in the western part of Denmark have been dependent on the oil and gas industry. The government is therefore assisting in transforming the west coast of the country from a transit point for the North Sea oil and gas industry into a hub for clean energy technologies.

This includes the construction of offshore wind farms and exploring the potential of using old oil wells to safely store CO2 captured from heavy industry or power plants. The same people and companies whose jobs once involved pumping carbon up from the underground will, in the near future, be making a living putting it back.

Similarly, with Eskom’s in-principle commitment to net-zero emission by 2050 and dwindling demand globally for coal, SA will have to introduce policies that can replace some of the 40,000 jobs in the coal industry in Mpumalanga. This could include policies that can stimulate local production of renewable energy components, as well as upskilling people to service and maintain solar installations and wind farms.

It could also be policies that take advantage of those opportunities that, according to the World Bank, lie in the up to 500% increase in demand by 2050 for certain minerals to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies.

Denmark looks forward to working closely with SA to realise a green and just energy transition — not least through our bilateral Energy Partnership Programme 2020-2025, and the people-centred transition commission ahead of COP26. Denmark will also work through the EU to engage and support a just and clean energy transition away from coal in partner countries such as SA.

Tackling climate change and achieving successful transitions to clean energy are not simply national endeavours that countries can handle individually. Only by working together, learning from each other and putting people at the centre of our energy policies, can we make life better for all.

• Jørgensen is Danish minister for climate, energy and utilities.

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