Is green the new black?

2009-12-12 12:41

IS IT time to start a

race war in South Africa? There is a significant group that feels that the

promises of freedom have still not been realised, mostly because economic power

remains largely in the hands of the white minority and a handful of empowered

black people.

Yet there is a chance to address this because we have put in place

measures to balance the economic inequalities fostered by black and white


But what about the black, white and green issue? This past week,

­nations gathered under the auspices of the United Nations Conference of the

Parties 15 in Copenhagen to negotiate, or subvert, a world deal on climate


The volume of the national conversation on this ­issue has been turned

up a fraction, with headlines screaming South ­Africa’s commitment to climate

targets and talkshow hosts waxing lyrical about environmental justice.

In spite of the fact that climate change has the potential to

completely eradicate the development gains of our freedom and add an ­additional

layer of hardship to the poor, the national conversation is still not loud

enough. And we do not all have an opinion.

Part of this can be attributed to the fact that much of the

discussion around climate change is foregrounded in high science.

Yet the

­effects of climate change manifest in everyday realities like unpredictable

weather, threats to food security, water shortages and spreading of disease, all

of which play a part in ­hampering our development.

Climate change does not discriminate. However, poorer people are

worst affected as they generally do not have the resources to mitigate against

these effects or to assist their speedy recovery.

A resident of Knysna hit by flooding early last year or owners of

exclusive property in Kwazulu-Natal’s exclusive Ballito who suffered serious

property damage due to abnormally high wave activity have the resources to

recover from that damage, unlike poorer families whose homes were damaged by

freak storms along the Kwazulu-Natal south coast early this year.

In the former case, the insurance companies have probably already

rebuilt homes and the construction of coastal buffers is underway.

For the

latter, many will have lost everything and are struggling to recover, replacing

each bit of furniture piece by piece as enough money is saved.

 And that is why

climate change needs to be seen as a development issue, not one of


South Africa is a contributor to the global problem. In 1990, the

country was responsible for about 1.2% of the total global warming ­effect,

which placed it within the top 10 contributing countries in the world.


burning of fossil fuels in South Africa is the primary source of this carbon


The country is particularly vulnerable – during the rolling power

cuts, South Africans were shocked by the fragility of its energy supply.


country is already water scarce. South Africa’s Water for Growth and Development

Framework states that growth in urban water requirements will lead to deficits

in supply if demand is not managed and supply augmented.

Some rural settlements

already face shortages due to lack of local water sources and drought.

Climate change will worsen this situation. South Africa will face

­erratic rainfall, with the west becoming drier and the east wetter.

The greater

rainfall in the eastern part will be damaging for crops and ­water sources as it

is predicted to fall in shorter but heavier bursts.

The effects of climate change and the predictions of scientists are

scary. They no longer know whether it is possible to slow down the rate of

global warming by 2°C.

 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that

“global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 1990-2000 levels would

exceed the adaptive capacity of many systems”.

Changes in temperature will result in new strains of disease and

these will be amplified by food insecurity and water scarcity.

Livelihoods of

people living in rural areas will be threatened and result in even further

hardship. People and infrastructure in coastal areas face real devastation due

to sea levels rising.

According to the projections of the panel, Africa will experience

some of the worst effects of climate change. This is exacerbated by the fact

that the region has limited capacity to deal with and adapt to these effects.

Agriculture production, including access to food, is projected to be severely

compromised by climate variability and change.

In some countries, yields from

rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%. In addition, between 75 and

250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water distress by


It is therefore understandable that in Copenhagen, the Africa

Group, as part of the G77, continues to push for a real commitment on emissions

cuts and a fund to assist the continent to develop the mitigation and adaptive

capacity to deal with the effects of climate change.

It is imperative that the national conversation elevates climate

change and environmental degradation to the level of national development,

rather than an issue for the environment department. Positive noises have been


Government has agreed to a strategic policy framework for our emissions to

peak between 2020 and 2025, and then stabilise for a decade before ­declining

towards mid-century.

There is acknowledgement of the problem, with cabinet

mandating government to formulate a sound policy framework for a transition to a

low-carbon economy.

However, an additional reason to talk climate change is that the

shift to a low-carbon economy presents a host of opportunities to generate

­incomes and create jobs.

With South Africa shedding jobs from the traditional

sectors of its economy at an alarming rate, it is opportune to look at

investment in developing local manufacturing capacity in new green low-carbon

technology ­sectors, such as solar energy and ­energy-efficient


The green agenda has fallen lower down the list of priorities as

many in South Africa still struggle to meet their basic needs.

Yet it is the one

sector that may facilitate improved livelihoods through the creation of green

jobs and green incomes.

With a move to improved waste management and reducing the volumes

that go to landfill sites as a way to cut harmful greenhouse gases, recycling

also provides a key opportunity to generate income.

Informal collection and vigorous trading in recyclable waste

already takes place. It should be formalised and regulated to avoid the

exploitation that takes place currently with buy-back prices being determined at

the whim of unscrupulous dealers.

This would also assist to give dignity to

those engaged in this form of green trade.

The opportunities are there. ­Perhaps it is time to wage a green

war and for each person to take ­climate action!

)? Josephs-Langa is the chief

executive of Indalo-Yethu, the national ­environmental campaign.

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