Addressing climate goals and the SDGs through a just energy transition? Empirical evidence from Germany and South Africa

Hägele, Ramona / Gabriela I. Iacobuţă / James Tops
External Publications (2022)

in: Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences 19 (1), 85-120

Open access

In striving to achieve the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, governments have the opportunity to implement their climate and sustainability goals more coherently. Such coherence requires the coordination of interdependent policies across different policy fields, sectors and actors. This paper explores how governments design and implement synergic solutions to concomitantly achieve both international agendas. With the empirical cases of Germany and South Africa, we investigate two independent approaches to the synergic solution of a just energy transition, whereby countries aim to phase out coal as a means to tackle climate change while also ensuring that the achievement of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not hindered. Methodologically, we apply a deductive qualitative approach consisting of literature review, semi-structured interviews, and content analysis. To that end, we examine relevant policies and institutional arrangements by applying a combined conceptual framework of energy justice and just transition in both countries. We find major challenges in overcoming environmental, economic and social burdens of the coal phase-out, especially related to jobs and inequality (SDGs 8, 10) and the Water-Energy-Food-Land nexus (SDGs 2, 6, 7, 15). Through the selection of Germany and South Africa, we illustrate how countries with different political, social and economic backgrounds strive to manage such a transition. Our developed framework and case-studies’ findings point towards important considerations when designing just energy transition pathways, such as ensuring inclusiveness in decision-making, thoroughly assessing social, economic and environmental impacts, and adequately coordinating across different actors and the local, provincial and national levels.

About the authors

Iacobuta, Gabriela

Climate and sustainable development policy


Hägele, Ramona

Political Scientist


Further experts

Aleksandrova, Mariya

Climate risk governance 

Banerjee, Aparajita

Environmental and Resource Sociology, Public Policy 

Brandi, Clara

Economy and Political Science 

Dippel, Beatrice


Donnelly, Aiveen

Politcal Science 

Ekoh, Susan S.

Environmental Research 

Goedeking, Nicholas

Comparative Political Economy 

Lehmann, Ina

Political Science 

Malerba, Daniele


Mathis, Okka Lou

Political Scientist 

Never, Babette

Political Scientist 

Pegels, Anna


Srigiri, Srinivasa Reddy

Agricultural Economist