The quest for a just transition: Strategic dilemmas and policy resolutions

Image: Murray Leibbrandt welcomes participants of the Inequality, Work, and Nature conference. Credit: ACEIR on Twitter.

The two-day conference on Inequality, Work, and Nature was organised by the South African Presidency, the European Union (EU), Agence Française de Développement (AFD), and the African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR), one of the 13 centres of excellence of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA). The University of Cape Town (UCT) hosts this centre on behalf of ARUA; its hub as well as its South Africa research node are based at SALDRU, while other nodes are located at the University of Ghana and the University of Nairobi.

The conference on 8 and 9 November gathered researchers, development practitioners, civil society, and government players to discuss the interactions between inequalities and climate change and their impact on development.

The conference premise was that progress in eradicating poverty will be undermined by insufficient action to limit and adapt to climate change, leading to worsening inequalities – especially for African and other developing countries. Profound changes in economies and labour markets are needed in the shift to sustainable and inclusive development pathways.

In the words of SALDRU’s Murray Leibbrandt, the director of ACEIR:

“A different kind of growth is needed to reduce inequalities – and that must be intertwined with the actions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

At the heart of discussions were how the trade-offs between inequality and environmental change are shaping development pathways, and how to build consensus and move forward on the policy front.

To understand these challenges better, the research presented on the first day was geared towards the strategic dilemmas that appear when designing long-term development trajectories that are both ecologically and socially sustainable. Researchers from SALDRU brought their expertise to bear at the parallel sessions on:

  1. Can there be a ‘sustainable’ economic recovery? This session assessed evidence on the impact of economic recovery policies to identify the implications for a sustainable economy. It was chaired by Kate Philip, the Programme Lead for the Presidential Employment Stimulus in South Africa’s Presidency:
    • Cally Ardington on “Harnessing community resources to enhance learning”; and
    • Joshua Budlender on “Stimulus effects of a large public employment programme”.


  1. Climate mitigation and inequality: Focused on the issue of climate mitigation and inequality and its implications for national climate mitigation policies and chaired by SALDRU’s deputy-director, Vimal Ranchhod:
    • Faaiqa Hartley on “Economy-wide and redistribution impacts of mitigation in South Africa” – this research was part of ACEIR’s joint TSITICA project with the ARUA Centre of Excellence in Climate and Development (ARUA-CD), also hosted by UCT.


  1. Environment and inequality: Chaired by the AFD’s director, Hélène Djoufelkit, this session dealt with interactions between inequalities, environmental degradation, and environmental protection measures:
    • Fabio Andrés Diaz Pabón on “Climate change-related shocks, resilience, and welfare outcomes: Evidence from Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa”, based on research for the TSITICA project.


  1. Profiling multidimensional vulnerability to climate change impacts: Focused on how socio-economic and climate change policies have affected livelihood trajectories of different groups in society and chaired by ARUA-CD’s Britta Rennkamp:
    • Muna Shifa on “Profiling multidimensional vulnerability to climate change impacts in South Africa and Ghana”, based on research for the TSITICA project.


  1. Spatial inequalities and ecological transitions: Discussed the dimensions of spatial inequalities that policymakers need to focus on in the design and implementation of environmental transitions; chaired by Jens Dyring Christensen, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Senior Enterprise Specialist for Southern and East Africa:
    • Jo Grötte on “Youth labour market index for South Africa”;
    • Ariane De Lannoy on “A profile of young people who are NEET in South Africa”; and
    • Arindam Jana on “Another aspect of spatial inequalities: Differential climate outcomes within cities”.


  1. Labour market specificities and the just transition: Dealt with the employment implications of the just transition and was chaired by a member of South Africa’s Presidential Economic Advisory Council member, UCT’s Haroon Bhorat:
    • Jacqueline Mosomi on “Measuring green jobs in South Africa”; and
    • Murray Leibbrandt as discussant.

Saldrupians featured in other parts of the conference agenda, too. Murray Leibbrandt contributed to plenary sessions and conference side events. These included a discussion on inequality diagnostics for the future that build on the first series of diagnostics, such as an updated edition of the “Inequality Trends in South Africa” report. This diagnostic was the first country report on inequality trends published through the ACEIR partnership with SALDRU, Statistics South Africa, and the AFD with partial funding from the Research Facility on Inequalities, supported by the European Union.

Murray also spoke at a side event on the risks and opportunities that transition processes offer to reverse the rise in poverty and inequalities triggered by recent crises, and to explore the role of development co-operation to reduce poverty and inequalities in these transitions. The discussion was hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and will help to inform their 2024 Development Co-operation Report.

Ariane De Lannoy, SALDRU lead on the Youth Explorer project, was a panellist at the World Data Lab and AFD side event on “Jobs in South Africa: Data to support a just inclusive transition”. This workshop aimed to promote collaboration, within South Africa and internationally, to develop innovative, data-driven strategies to provide insights that will support a just and inclusive transition.

The Inequality, Work, and Nature conference formed part of the second phase of the AFD-EU Research Facility on Inequalities. Recordings of all sessions will be released on the AFD’s YouTube channel soon.

See this UCT News article on the opening session on day 2 where UCT’s Interim Vice-Chancellor shared the podium with South Africa’s Deputy-Minister in the Presidency and delegates from the EU and AFD.