As Eskom consolidates the move towards independent power producers (IPPs), the working class finds itself in an increasingly difficult position with this unjust transition in energy resources.
Not only is it caught between a fossil fuel and a hard place, the move to IPPs signals the dangerous continued neoliberalisation of the productive economic sector, the increasing privatisation of public resources – resulting in mass unemployment – and the consolidation of elite rule over productive economic forces.
The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has been calling for a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
In the Numsa 9th National Congress Resolutions of 2012, we define the renewable energy sector as a “socially owned renewable energy sector”. This is a sector in which the community and workers are direct beneficiaries – they own and control it.
The transition from fossil fuels to renewables will come at a cost, but that cost must be shared by all stakeholders. It must be a transition that is sustainable and, ultimately, does not negatively affect the next generation and their ability to survive.
We have no choice – if the human race is to prevent its own extinction, we must transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible.
The International Labour Organisation formulated the just transition principles, which give meaning to the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which each participating country shall determine, plan and regularly report on the contribution it will make to mitigate global warming.
The rise in the global temperature and its affect on rainfall patterns and sea levels means that climate change poses a direct threat to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
It is the people from the poorest nations – those who have contributed the least to the problem – who are likely to suffer the most.
In South Africa, working-class communities are suffering as the country continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels. Workers and their families who live in communities that have been built near coal power stations, like the Masakhane settlement in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, suffer the harmful effects of air, soil and water pollution.
The Earth’s natural resources have been decimated because of capitalist dependence on greed and rampant profiteering, therefore any solution to climate change cannot be resolved separately from the resolution of the capitalist crisis.
Simply put, capitalism is incapable of finding solutions for climate change because it is responsible for the Earth’s destruction.
Corporates use PR jargon to gloss over the brutality they inflict on the working class and the environment. Lofty phrases such as “corporate social investment” or “socioeconomic development” are used to fool the unsuspecting public while the companies hide their cold, calculating ambitions.
For any capitalist enterprise, profit is the only motive and it must be obtained at all cost. In this case, the environment and the future of the planet has been sold to the highest bidder.
Terry Townsend, author of A Marxist Analysis of Climate Change, says: “For capitalists, profit is an end in itself. It does not matter to them whether the commodities they produce satisfy fundamental human needs – such as food, clothing, shelter – or are devoted to pointless or ostentatious consumption, or are even destructive to human beings and the planet. A buck is a buck, whether it comes from mung beans, Lamborghinis or cigarettes.”
What Townsend is saying is that it is naive to believe that corporations can solve the climate change crisis, which is why tackling climate change must involve the destruction of the capitalist system as the basis for any solution.
Any renewable energy project must measure up to the principles of a just transition. This principle cannot be ignored because it forms the backbone of the Paris Agreement, which the South African government ratified, and which is the justification for the IPP project.
What follows is a simple breakdown of why the IPP project fails to meet this principle:
The IPP project will destroy thousands of jobs
In March last year, Eskom announced that the finalisation of the IPP contract would result in the closure of several coal power stations in Mpumalanga.
At least 92 000 jobs will be lost and this would negatively affect the GDP of the local economy. In comparison, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said that the project would create 114 000 “job years”.
The minister is contradicted by the SA Renewable Energy Council, which said that the IPP agreements would only lead to 13 000 construction jobs.
It makes no reference to Radebe’s 144 000 “job years”.
The IPP project is costlier than the nuclear deal
The recently signed IPP project is estimated to cost the state R1.4 trillion for the life of the projects in nominal terms, which is more than the nuclear power project.
The nuclear deal was rejected because it did not make financial sense to invest in such expensive technology when the state could not afford it.
There was outrage from the media because the deal was tied to former president Jacob Zuma and allegations of corruption.
And yet, bizarrely, the state is investing in this expensive technology when Eskom has an oversupply of electricity.
Furthermore, what Eskom can produce for R0.42 per kilowatt-hour, it buys for R2.22 per kWh from the IPPs and sells to the consumer for R0.85 per kWh. These expenses are passed on to the consumer.
Zuma has been removed and the nuclear deal is on ice, and the costlier IPP project has replaced it. However, there is barely a murmur from the media because it is being promoted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
A just transition puts workers and the community at the centre of any renewable energy programme.
There is little communication around the IPP project
The problem with the manner in which the state embarked on this project is that there was not enough engagement with affected stakeholders – they did not consult the unions who would be affected by the closure of power stations; they did not consult the coal transporters who represent some of the businesspeople whose existence is based on the work they provide to Eskom; and they did not consult the communities in Mpumalanga about the closure of power stations.
Key stakeholders were excluded from this process and they want the working class to believe them when they say it is for their benefit.
Numsa will be embarking on a legal battle to overturn the decision to conclude the IPP agreements. It won’t be an easy battle and we may or may not be successful. Ultimately, we recognise that what is required is a permanent solution that can only be solved through class struggle. Climate change cannot be stopped without moving beyond capitalism and replacing it with socialism as a solution to the challenges facing our society.
* Jim is the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.
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