Globally, and in South Africa, there are urgent imperatives for low carbon development. South Africa’s commitment to a low carbon future is manifest on the National Development Plan and myriad policy and strategy documents. As the country reduces its dependence on coal there will be marked impacts on specific regional economies, intervention is required to ensure that the transition to a low carbon future is Just. While the Just Transition will be a complex process, involving change at levels across the nation, the National Planning Commission has identified that there would be value in piloting projects in hotspots where the need for Just Transition plans is most urgent.
The Highveld region was identified as such a hotspot. In this region, the Mpumalanga province houses the vast majority of coal power stations and coal mining activities. The Mpumalanga provincial government has been proactive in exploring opportunities in the Green Economy for opportunity-lead growth and to transition their economy to a labour absorbing green focused region. This opportunity can smooth this inevitable economic transition. In the theme there are a host of potential initiatives; for example, the opportunities presented by repurposing land on ultimately decommissioned mines and coal fired stations to pivot to renewable energy production, utilising the existing transmission assets in the region. Amongst such initiatives, there may be viable opportunities which face structural, economic, infrastructure and policy barriers.
The Mpumalanga region has strategically prioritised using a cluster development model to unlock the opportunity in the Green Economy. Such development happens through engagement at the intersection of government, business and academia – the triple helix nexus. Independent triple helix clusters have been identified globally as a strong instrument for the green and hi-tech transitions.
The Mpumalanga Province engaged several years of learning support with GreenCape to understand how clusters have worked in the South African context. This has culminated in a formal memorandum of understanding to collaborate on using a cluster approach to build a green economy in Mpumalanga.