The work of building a sustainable and environmentally sound growth path is the work of the nation as a whole amid an "unprecedented threat from climate change", Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy said.
Speaking to the media ahead of delivering the Department of Environmental Affairs' budget on Thursday, Creecy said more than two million South Africans are directly dependent on natural resources and the natural environment for their income. These people support eight to ten people each, underlining the true significance of the country's natural resources to its economic and social well-being.
"The underpinnings of our economy and our social fabric are facing unprecedented threats from climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of our biodiversity," she said.
She said all spheres of government, business, organised labour and civil society are required to come together in a joint action to combat climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity.
She said in line with that, the second draft of the Climate Change Bill – which aims to create a framework to implement a just transition to a climate-resilient and lower-carbon economy and society – is currently being discussed and debated at National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
"Society at large is worried about immediate issues of energy security, job losses and retrenchments. This means while we debate the Climate Change Bill, we must of necessity also discuss the objectives and the process of the just transition itself and ensure that it takes place in an orderly manner. We must tread this, our future path towards 2050, while maintaining energy security and creating employment," she said.
She added that there must be an investment in essential research and development to create the new industries and skills needed, allowing existing industries and their workforces to proactively manage the changes in ways that create new jobs and economic growth.
In her speech, she made reference to the recent strikes by schoolchildren across the world, including South Africa, against adult inaction to address the climate crisis, and asking that it be declared a crisis.
Earlier, at the briefing, she was asked whether she agreed that it should be declared a crisis.
"How would declaring a climate crises help people implement solutions? Isn't that what we want? Solutions," she responded.
"I think what we already have is all spheres of government having signed agreements in terms of the Paris Accord. So we have all agreed that there is a problem. What's the implementation? And I'm saying what we have to discuss in order to take concrete steps to implement is what does the just transition look like.
She said she has great respect for the young people mobilising support for their concerns about climate change.
"And I think it is entirely appropriate because it's their future that is on the line.
"My responsibility as a person in a decision making role is to say what are the practical steps for implementation. And that’s essentially what we need to be moving towards."
She also noted increased public concern around air quality in the priority areas of the Highveld, Vaal Triangle and the Waterberg. She committed to a review of the Priority Air Quality Management Plan and its implementation. She said she has written to Minister of State Enterprises Pravin Gordhan and to Minister of Minerals and Energy Gwede Mantashe in this regard.