How to create South African jobs – and save the climate

Feature story - August 13, 2010
Within the next 20 years, South Africa could create 78,000 new green jobs, slash its carbon emissions, increase its energy security and become a world leader in renewable energy production. Our latest research finds that a switch from investing in fossil fuels to investing in people would be a win for energy security, a win for the economy and a win for the climate - if the government seizes the opportunity to go green. So what will it be? Business-as-usual, or an Energy [R]evolution?
Solar installation in South Africa

Students of the Madiba-a-Toloane High School install solar panels on the roof of the school hall. © Nicolas Fojtu / Greenpeace

Like every country on Earth, South Africa faces the problems created by climate change. But, like many countries in the South, we also face the twin problems of poverty and joblessness.

What if there was a way to create jobs, provide training, enhance skills and tackle climate change? What if investing in our future and tackling climate change would create a huge, green industry and an extra 78,000 jobs?

This is exactly what Greenpeace's new report, South African Energy Sector Jobs to 2030, investigates. And it finds that a switch from investing in fossil fuels to investing in people would be a win for energy security, a win for the economy and a win for the climate.

While South Africa pumps out carbon dioxide emissions from coal (we are the 14th highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world), we are sitting atop a treasure trove of renewable energy sources: wind energy, marine energy and some of the best solar resources in the world. Yet our current renewables capacity is very low.

This new report finds that, while business as usual energy scenarios come at the cost of the climate and the economy, switching from coal to renewable electricity generation would reduce South Africa’s carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050, and create a brand new industry and more jobs.


The South African Energy sector: three scenarios

We analysed the energy sector job creation associated with the different energy scenarios to 2030:

  • The Energy [R]evolution scenario, as published by Greenpeace, which sets out a vision for a low-carbon energy future for South Africa
  • A scenario derived from the International Energy Agency's (IEA) 2007 energy projection for Africa and
  • The South African Government's ‘Growth Without Constraints’ scenario, which is commonly regarded as a reference case for the country and was designed to reflect South Africa’s energy future in the absence of climate change and with no oil constraints.

We calculated direct employment in each of these scenarios: ie jobs in fuel production, manufacturing, construction, operations, maintenance, energy efficiency, and those associated with coal exports.

The Energy [R]evolution: Better for jobs...

What we found was that the Energy [R]evolution scenario created the most jobs - a net increase of 78,000 jobs by 2030. This is slightly more than even the Growth Without Constraints scenario, which sees energy sector employment increase by 71,000, and considerably more than the International Energy Agency scenario, which has an estimated growth of 46,000.

In short, renewable energy could be a major employment creator in South Africa, creating 78,000 direct jobs and countless thousands of other indirect jobs in less than 20 years.

Coal stock, South Africa

© Graeme Williams / Panos / Greenpeace

Better for the climate

The Energy [R]evolution scenario also does best in emissions reductions, reducing South African emissions by 60% by 2050 (compared to the 2005 level) through energy efficiency, renewable energy and combined heat and power generation. By 2030, renewable energy supplies 36% of South Africa’s electricity.

By comparison, under the IEA Reference case South Africa’s emissions nearly double by 2050 relative to 2005, and under the Growth Without Constraints scenario emissions increase nearly fourfold.

We have the solution – but do we have the political will?

“The truth of the matter,” says Greenpeace Africa's Melita Steele, “is that the old energy solutions aren’t that, they’re problems. The Energy [R]evolution provides an alternative, that’s what we’re putting on the table. We challenge our leaders to take responsibility now.”

The country needs to find the political will to start overhauling its entire energy supply process. It has to decide whether to continue down the pathway of seeking low cost, dirty solutions to the country's energy crisis, or whether to invest in large scale development of renewable technologies combined with ambitious energy efficiency.

If the government seizes the opportunity, South Africa can avoid making the same costly mistakes that the climate-changing economies of the developed world have made. Instead, we can leapfrog 'dirty development' and lead the African energy revolution.

The solution is clear. The timing is right. It is the implementation that requires courage, determination - and vision.

You can download the report here.

Take the pledge

Join the Energy [R]evolution!