Coal remains central to the South African energy system, even as alternative technologies have become more competitive, especially for electricity generation. Economics will account for much of the transformation of energy systems globally over the coming years, and already place South Africa’s coal mining sector in transition. However, Paris Agreement-compatible emissions pathways will require precipitous reductions in coal use. Creating conditions for meeting ambitious emission reduction targets will in turn require an integrated approach to climate policy, energy policy, mining policy and industrial policy. A more integrated approach to climate and economic policy objectives will in turn have to take into account South Africa’s overall development context and challenges – namely, unemployment and poverty. In this context, a just transition is vital for the success of the economy and of mitigation policy, and has to be developed not only to address the social and economic consequences of the coal transition for workers and communities (the magnitude of which is potentially very great, and which is already being felt), but also to contribute to the broader development agenda of the country.