SA at work: SA economy waits for the green light

2013-12-15 14:00

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Mining is the past. Green is the future.

That is the call from an increasing number of economists as South Africa’s beleaguered mining industry continues to shed jobs.

Last month, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) released research forecasting that more than 460?000 jobs could be created by South Africa’s greeneconomy – if the sector receives the necessary investment.

This figure dwarfs economists’ forecasts for the mining sector.

The almost half a million new jobs would be created as South Africa moved to greener industries and started manufacturing parts for a vibrant renewable energy sector.

New green jobs would also entail jobs in environmental stewardship.

But the optimism for green jobs comes with a stern warning: skills development is vital.

Without it, experts say, the strategy is doomed to fail.

The move towards a greeneconomy, albeit at a snail’s pace, is a growing trend as economies around the world try to lessen their reliance on fossil fuels and curb rampant climate change by creating more sustainable-energy industries.

South Africa has long been a supporter of moving to a greener economy, and the development of a domestic greeneconomy is a cornerstone of its New Growth Path economic strategy.

But in reality, the transition to what many view as the future of the world’s economy has been anything but smooth.

Mining is still widely seen as the cornerstone of South Africa’s economy and wealth.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies is adamant that the New Growth Path identifies a greeneconomy as one of six growth drivers and job creators for South Africa.

The IDC’s research is not the only report trumpeting green jobs as South Africa’s employment saviour.

A UN Environment Programme (Unep) study, South African GreenEconomy Modelling, shows that investing in a low-carbon, resource-efficient greeneconomy is fundamental for South Africa’s sustained economic growth and wellbeing.

The study also shows that a green-economy approach – such as investing in low-carbon technologies, green buildings and renewable energy – is likely to create more jobs than the current approach.

A green approach would support the same level of economic growth, yet with lower emissions of greenhouse gases and less environmental damage.

But it warned that investment was key in the sector if it was to contribute to South Africa’s growth target stipulated in the National Development Plan of between a 4% and 7% rise in gross domestic product per year until 2020.

The study said investment in a greeneconomy could contribute to 46% more restored land by 2030 and greater water availability.

The Unep report’s outlook for jobs was even rosier, estimating that green investment could create jobs for as many as 737?000 people, whereas a business-as-usual scenario would create just 568?000.

The IDC’s research said there were three main categories involved in creating green jobs.

Natural resource management would be the biggest employer by far in a greeneconomy, according to the study, and that “biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration” could create almost 122?000 jobs.

The downside of this scenario is that government would in all probability need to subsidise these jobs in the same way in subsidises the Working for Water programme or land stewardship programmes.

The R800?million boost for the department of environmental affairs’ Green Fund is another example.

It was expected to create 63?000 jobs in the past year.

Energy generation, which includes the renewable energy sector, could create as many as 130?000 jobs over the next eight years and most of these jobs would guarantee a quality income, economists have pointed out. But the success of this sector is also heavily dependent on skilled labour, such as engineers.

Mike Rossouw, head of the Intensive Energy User Group, wrote in Business Day that reducing the carbon-fuelled energy intensity of our economy means increasing the number of better-paid, higher-skilled jobs.

“This demands that we produce better-qualified learners, especially in mathematics and science, with a good understanding of renewable energy,” he wrote.

“We have to make choices. South Africa cannot afford to pursue policy options that even developed countries have found to be too expensive.

“For South Africa to move to a lower-carbon economy while alleviating poverty, creating jobs and growing economically, it must get its policy priorities right as a matter of urgency.”

The IDC concurs. In its report, it said that although substantial human resource capacity was available locally, a shortage of skills in certain areas was likely to constrain the development of segments of a greeneconomy.

“Hence, a coherent strategy is needed to address skill constraints that may prevent the expansion of the pertinent sectors or the introduction of new activities,” it said.

“This would include worker-reskilling programmes towards greener disciplines and activities.”

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