This report explores some of the main challenges associated with the likelihood that South Africa’s coal production might decline significantly, potentially over the next five to ten years. The authors highlight some of the key issues that need to be thought through and discussed as part of ensuring a “just transition” to this future.

The report is based on insights from a workshop held in Tshwane in September 2018, titled “The end of coal? The risks and opportunities facing South Africa’s energy economy”, as well as on interviews conducted between 10 and 19 September 2018 in Gauteng and Mpumalanga with public officials, business associations, civil society organizations and researchers. Participants to the workshop included public officials from national government – such as the departments of Energy, Trade and Industry, Economic Development, and Environmental Affairs – as well as state-owned enterprises Eskom and Transnet, trade union representatives, researchers, business representatives and civil society organizations.

Aerial view of a coal mine near Ogies in South Africa. Photo: James Oatway / Centre for Environmental Rights.

Workshop participants brought up and discussed the main economic and political impacts of a coal decline, as well as potential economic development alternatives, knowledge gaps and the institutional arrangements required to implement a just transition. In interviews, local stakeholders shared the same concerns, but they also raised significant worries about environmental impacts and how they will be handled as the coal industry declines.

This report is structured along the themes raised by the workshop participants and the stakeholders we interviewed, and is supplemented with desktop research. After describing the evolving role of coal in South Africa – and the likely impacts of a coal phase-out – we outline the key elements of a coal transition, including available policy mechanisms and the role of subnational governments.