This is a resource for the South African just transition

Just Urban Transitions is a project that aims to unpack the consequences of South Africa’s low-carbon transition, focussing mainly on the energy transition, for the urban context.

What are just urban transitions?

Just urban transitions are processes through which low-carbon transitions in urban contexts are managed. A just urban transition (JUT) needs to encompass collective understandings of justice to bring about equitable outcomes through representative and inclusive practices. 

JUT processes require locally tailored policies and actions designed to navigate low-carbon transitions at a city and town scale. Though just transitions are usually considered at the national level, these policies and actions spotlight the role of the local government  in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. As such, they must be designed to manage the individual, household and community vulnerabilities and tradeoffs that arise in the evolution away from fossil fuel dependency.

What are urban energy transitions?

The low-carbon transition is fundamentally an energy transition. In South Africa, the energy sector is the single largest contributor of carbon emissions in the country. A low-carbon transition encompasses parallel processes of decreasing the share of fossil fuels in the energy system, whilst increasing the share of low-carbon energy.

Contemporary ‘sustainable energy transitions’ are driving the increased uptake of renewable energy, such as wind and solar at different scales, from large utility-scale infrastructure, down to micro-grids and solar home systems. As a result of this technological shift, national power sectors are undergoing multidimensional transformations, with the structure of generation, transmission and distribution of electricity being radically rethought. Thus, the increase in renewable energy technologies has wide-ranging implications for energy infrastructure governance that span planning, finance, ownership, development and how we use energy.

The decentralisation of planning, policy, management and  the distribution infrastructure installation are seen as critical structural changes within the sustainable energy transition. There is both a need for a different kind of management of transmission and distribution, and the potential for different kinds of actors to participate in more localised electricity sub-systems. 

Sustainable energy transitions have implications for the entire energy sector, including power sector stakeholders. There are profound implications for the roles and responsibilities of local governments, who bear the brunt of service delivery and local economic development. Local governments (particularly city governments) face significant risks and opportunities that demand locally appropriate responses.


A framework for action

Just urban transitions require locally tailored policies and actions designed to navigate low-carbon transitions at a city and town scale. To achieve just urban transitions, both the outcomes and the processes of the low-carbon transformation need to meet collective understandings of justice, encompassing considerations of fairness, equity, and representation

Understanding the stakeholders

There are many different public, private, and civil society actors that have an active stake in the just transition and a critical role to play.