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sept10 1a


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Addressing climate change is often presented as a constraint on economic growth and, in a developing country such as South Africa the argument is often made that there are more urgent development priorities, such as unemployment. A recent report by Greenpeace, however, suggests that it may be possible to kill two birds with one stone.

The report, South African Energy Sector Jobs to 2030 – How the Energy [R]evolution will create sustainable green jobs, assesses three scenarios for South Africa’s energy future, depending on whether we continue investing in low-cost but high emission energy production, or ambitiously invest in renewable energy.

The first scenario used to investigate possible futures for South Africa is the Growth-Without-Constraints scenario.

This scenario is used as a reference case, and its authors readily acknowledge that it is unlikely to materialize. “Growth Without Constraints is really only likely if the world fails in its efforts around climate change, if oil remains cheap, and if South Africa can survive isolated from a carbon conscious world” (Scenario Building Team 2007). For the sake of argument, however, the scenario projects that South Africa will continue focusing on its coal reserves for energy generation, and carbon emissions will increase fourfold by 2050. The positive side is that this growth will also contribute significantly to job creation, allowing for a net increase of 71,000 energy sector jobs by 2050.

The second scenario was produced by the International Energy Agency, which assumes that South Africa will make some investments in renewable energy, but still rely predominantly on coal-based power generation. With more realistic assumptions about economic growth, the scenario suggests a net increase of 46,000 jobs in the energy sector and a doubling of carbon emissions by 2050.

The final energy scenario, called the Energy [R]evolution, sees South Africa reducing its emissions by 60% by 2050 (compared to the 2005 level). These reductions are achieved through existing technologies, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy and combined heat and power generation.


Energy efficiency reduces the need for energy services by one third, with significant economic as well as environmental benefits. Nuclear power is gradually phased out, and reliance on coal is greatly reduced.

The environmental benefits of this last scenario are obvious, but will it come at the cost of jobs and economic growth? According to the study, South Africa can in fact create about 71,000 new jobs in the energy sector by 2050 under this scenario, which is significantly more than the business-as-usual EIA scenario and even more than the unrealistic growth-without-constraints scenario.

The report observes that “South Africa sits atop a treasure trove of renewable energy sources, from wind and marine energy to some of the best solar resources in the world…harnessing these resources would not only make a massive contribution in the global fight against climate change, but would also create the much vaunted “better life for all South Africans” including a brand new industry with thousands of green, sustainable jobs.”

The full report can be accessed through the following link: