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The role of international climate finance in supporting just renewable energy transitions: the case of the Green Climate Fund in South Africa.

Authors: Jon Barnes*, London School of Economics
Topics: Political Geography, Africa, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Climate change, justice, Africa, just transition, renewable energy
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Political ecological perspectives can contribute to debates around power and scale in assemblage theory to explore how so-called ‘legitimate consensus’ is reached across difference. This paper explores the political ecological context of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) supporting renewable energy transitions in South Africa. South Africa has an ambitious reform programme, an empowered civil society and a failing coal-powered utility company, yet progress towards renewable energy is frustrated by political and financial barriers. The domestic energy context is complex and contested and there is a risk that external inputs simplify and financialize this. This paper draws on interviews and ethnographic research with actors in the GCF project development process in order to explore the potential for this to support a just renewable energy transition. The GCF empowers South Africa via ‘country ownership’, where domestic and international actors collaboratively develop projects in line with national policy. This approach can exacerbate tensions as it privileges certain actors and approaches. Actors make justice claims along various dimensions to propagate an imaginary of benefit linked to a just transition that is epistemically inclusive but inequitable in practice. In this way, projects transcend scale in a bid to please all. Renewable energy is both an end in itself as well as a policy lever to support socio-economic transformation. Indeed, such reform is prioritized over domestic or international emissions reduction objectives. This paper locates the implicit power framing in assemblage theory by employing a multi-dimensional idea of power that highlights the agency and constraints on actors.

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