Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy has confirmed that the Presidential Climate Change Commission, which was proposed as part of agreements reached at the 2018 Jobs Summit, will be established and will become a key platform for facilitating South Africa’s ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon economy.
Speaking at a recent stakeholder dialogue hosted as part of South Africa’s preparations for the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting, Creecy revealed that President Cyril Ramaphosa had agreed that the process of establishing the commission should begin in earnest.
The President had also indicated that he wanted the structure to “bring together” unfolding discussions on the just transition and ensure that the deliberations and outcomes had the authority of government.
Creecy stressed that the just-transition discussion could not be confined to the issue of coal jobs alone, in light of the reality that several sectors had been identified as being vulnerable to climate change, including agriculture, automotive manufacturing and activities associated with the country’s biodiversity endowment.
The recently released National Biodiversity Assessment noted that about 418 000 jobs were related directly and indirectly to South Africa’s world-class biodiversity, falling only marginally short of the 430 000 jobs recorded in the country’s mining sector in 2017.
“If it was only about coal jobs, then it would be a really easy conversation, but it’s actually about millions of jobs across the economy, not only about thousands of coal-mining jobs. So the issue really does need to be elevated to the level of a Presidential commission,” Creecy argued.
Particular attention would have to be given, however, to those regions where the livelihoods of individuals and communities were inextricably linked to coal. “Jobs in coal may be considered dirty, but in areas such as Emalahleni, in Mpumalanga, they are often the only jobs. When I visited recently, there was not a single yard without an Eskom uniform hanging on the washing line.”
Creecy also urged stakeholders to progress the just-transition debate beyond that of a threat, noting that the emerging global consensus was one of there being no contradiction between economic growth and development and investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The message emerging from the recent United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York was that the “the green economy and information communication technology were the new economic growth drivers”.
A recently released United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) report even made the case for a ‘Global Green New Deal’ to support climate stabilisation and help stimulate economic growth and create jobs. The proposal sought to recast US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal policy on a global scale so as to “pull up the people and cool down the planet”.
Unctad estimates that a yearly rise in green investment of 2% of global output, or about $1.7-trillion, will generate a net increase in global employment of some 170-million jobs by 2030. At the same time, such investments would reduce gross carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 32-billion tons by the same date.
“We can’t just see climate change as a threat. We also have to see it as an opportunity,” Creecy argued.
She had, thus, made a commitment to support Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel in a broad-based effort to accelerate the expansion of South Africa’s green-economy sector. She urged business and other stakeholders to stop talking in theory about the creation of “a million green jobs”, however, and to begin demonstrating how and where these would arise.
Patel had requested the renewable-energy sector to develop a master plan as part of what government is calling its “re-imagined industrial policy" and the renewables and storage industry had also been included as a “catalytic” growth sector under the Public Private Growth Initiative.
Creecy told stakeholders that she was committed to making her contribution to driving the just transition in partnership with her government colleagues, the private sector, labour, communities and nongovernmental organisations.
“If we work together, in four years from now we will be proud of what we would have achieved,” she averred.