OPINION | The road to SA's recovery is green

Green shoots (istock)
Green shoots (istock)

Covid-19 has inflicted unprecedented upheaval on societies and economies worldwide.

This has been the most serious health crisis faced by the world for generations and as a society we need to come together to curb the loss of life, keep essential workers safe and support our communities. As we take the fight to the global pandemic many analysts and economists note that the impacts of lockdowns will result in a global economic contraction with devastating results for businesses, jobs and livelihoods.

The South African reality is that our economy was already showing limited GDP growth before the Covid-19 crisis, forecast at 0.8%. Unemployment was effectively at 40% and business confidence was at its lowest at the onset of 2020. Now, the Covid-19 business impact outlook notes that 85% of businesses are reporting turnover below the normal range. A bleak picture indeed.  

The tourism and conservations sectors have been severely impacted by the lockdown. With the demand for travel practically zero at the moment and likely to stay subdued after the pandemic. The financial and operational sustainability of those in the hospitality sector, NGOs and protected and conserved areas come into question. The knock-on impacts of this will undoubtedly slow progress on landscape and biodiversity conservation.

The urgent need for all round reform is evident. As we rebuild our country we should aim to build back better to emerge with a fundamentally revitalised approach to addressing our economic challenges. Our president is leading the charge: "We are resolved not merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality…" But what does this actually look like beyond the emergency relief measures and traditional stimulus packages, and how do we avoid making the same mistakes, bearing in mind the consequences we are living with as a result of the misuse of our environment?

A green road to recovery could not only boost growth and assist South Africa’s recovery efforts but would also ensure a just transition to a new economy that offers legitimate consideration for the natural environment and allows for opportunities to the marginalised, particularly in rural areas, allowing us to build back better. The global call for green and inclusive policies to be the cornerstone of economic recovery is echoing across the world, with the 2020’s being dubbed the decade to address Green Growth.

A green road to recovery for South Africa would give real and actionable impetus to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has never been more relevant and more urgent. This would require government and private sector dedication and financial support for green sectors and innovations. It would require an interrogation of how the South African stimulus packages and recovery road map systematically builds public intervention that is targeted not only on emergency liquidity demands but identifies the key drivers for economic growth in the long term. In 2020, this is sustainable development.

A green road to recovery would ensure an economic recovery that does not exacerbate climate change and environmental degradation, which would destabilise us even further and remove opportunities to have a more inclusive economy. Some key insights into what this could include:

1.       Making environmental improvements an integral part of the recovery roadmap for the country; while the priority remains emergency relief measures, future resilience is critical and requires the re-evaluation of potentially negative environmental impacts and the building of a resilient economy with broader shared value;

2.       Ensuring that existing investments, innovation and initiatives in green sectors and broader landscape conservation efforts, which underpin the health and well-being of society and our economy, retain their support and financing to maintain the gains we have made; 

3.       Ensuring stimulus include measures which focus on climate and nature positive labour intensive sectors like the production of renewable energy; investments in water treatment and sanitation; waste management and recycling (especially for plastics); sustainable transport and infrastructure; the remediation of polluted lands and the preservation or restoration of natural areas that provide ecosystem services and resilience to floods, droughts, and hurricanes;

4.       Harnessing the strength of the circular economy and focus on resource efficient economies;

5.       Incentivising investment in technological innovations and wildlife value chains that build resilient communities and enhances health through cleaner and better protected environments;

6.       Focusing large stimulus on projects that can decarbonise the economy in order to address emergency needs as well as build long term sustainable industries for the country and possible export markets for growing energy needs across sub Saharan Africa;

7.       Integrate financial support measures such as preferential loans, grants and tax incentives with efforts that boost tangible environmental commitments, incentivizes positive behavioral change and boost both liquidity for citizens as well as create benefits for a healthy environment and green growth;

8.       Aligning and supporting the work of the Network for Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System who have been pushing for, among other things, implementation of recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD);

9.       Recognising the underlying structural problems in our food system highlighted again by the pandemic, and ensuring future investment in the sector does not drive further unsustainable land use change for the purposes of intensive agriculture or exploitation of wildlife.

We are now at the beginning of the road to recovery and there are still many things that remain uncertain. We need to build back better to maximise environmental and social benefits, and prevent the rollback of environmental protection and structure the recovery and stimulus packages in a way that builds a more sustainable and resilient economy.

Candice Stevens is Chair of the Sustainable Landscape Finance Coalition, WFA. Cerin Maduray is an Investment Analyst at WWF-SA. Views expressed are their own. 

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