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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Towards a blueprint for South Africa’s Just Transition

SA is at the dawn of a transition from a predominantly coal based grid and economy. There is engagement from various stakeholder groups around a JT whereby jobs are not lost, further employment is created, and economic activity is cultivated to stimulate job creation. Previous energy transitions from coal, for example in the North of the UK, have resulted in many living in poverty and areas left desolate after mining coal has been systemically discontinued. SA cannot afford this given its already complex socio-economic situation marked by inequality, poverty, and unemployment. There is a body of work that exists and researchers actively engaging with the topic of a JT in SA. To aid in overcoming implementation inertia, involving an uncoordinated array of actors along with ineffective policy interventions, a synthesis of this work to clarify certain transition process mechanisms is essential. This includes the required institutions, policies and regulations, means of financing the transition with regards to aspects such as infrastructure, reskilling and reallocation of jobs, the required economic reform to shift the SA economy from being reliant on coal, new industrial strategies for the transition, the relevant stakeholders and associated roles/responsibilities and identifying key beneficiaries of the JT process.

The study is qualitative in nature exploring the various possible interventions to implementing the JT by means of synthesizing the pertinent literature, webinars offering contemporary SA perspectives on the JT and conducting semi-structured interviews. The stakeholders involved span across the race and sector spectrum to ensure varied perspectives are captured. A JT framework is developed to guide the identification of interventions to the SA system.  From the data gathered, it is seen that the JT is a contested topic with not one homogenous definition of it. To a large extent, however, is the JT a process by which inequality, unemployment, poverty, and energy poverty are to be overcome for the SA context. To better facilitate the JT in SA, the major process areas of transition management, socio-economic development and support mechanisms for coal workers, communities and the environment are focused on. In determining the interventions from the gathered data these process areas are utilized in defining the boundaries for the analysis. Overall, it is found that greater coordination in policy interventions is seen paramount for a unified approach in the transition to be present. Adding to this, a reform of the electricity market and its related regulatory reforms is seen paramount in facilitating the JT. Lastly, an active industrial strategy coupled with educational opportunities to empower individuals is found as necessary.

In summation, this study attempts to define the contours of the JT concept and discusses potential strategies to facilitating the transition in a complex socio-economic context.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.