Transition towards a greener SA

The government has been discussing the issue of green energy. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

The government has been discussing the issue of green energy. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 9, 2024


Dr Jaisheila Rajput

This year, South Africa celebrates 30 years of democracy. A time to consider, evaluate, and inspire South Africans to make choices that will result in a society that is just, equitable, and equal. This translates to all facets of sustainability—social, environmental, financial, political, and economic.

Every sector engaged is interconnected, and any impact to one has a ripple effect on the others.

With this as a lens, South Africa confronts numerous obstacles and difficulties in addressing the climate crisis and through this, the need for a Just Transition.

The State of the Nation Address (Sona) delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa, placed more emphasis on the government’s accomplishments to-date rather than actual conditions on the ground. Many of the issues mentioned are inextricably linked to sustainability, socio-economic upliftment and mitigating the risks of climate change.

Some key areas mentioned include:

 Infrastructure development.

It’s clear from Sona and the prevailing economic landscape, investment in areas such as infrastructure is crucial for boosting economic expansion and improving the standard of living for people nationwide.

In underserved areas in particular, rebuilding and extending vital infrastructure such as transportation networks, energy systems and facilities, and water supply can boost access to basic services, promote trade, and improve connectivity. Not only is this in line with South Africa’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but it presents an opportunity to introduce greener, less resource intensive solutions.

 Adoption of renewable energy sources.

The Boegoebaai programme, focused on green hydrogen, was mentioned as it aims to power sustainable development using renewable energy resources. As part of the bid to reduce carbon emissions and promote growth of a more ecologically friendly transportation sector, investment in electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and providing incentives for adoption of EVs was highlighted.

South Africa can lessen its reliance on fossil fuels while improving public health and air quality. Areas like Mpumalanga, which have historically relied on coal mining, may be able to transition to new economies based on renewable energy and sustainable industries. Investing in skills development programmes and renewable energy infrastructure will help areas such as Mpumalanga become a hub to produce clean energy and long-term job growth.

 Collaboration for a greener economy.

It was highlighted two of our neighbouring countries, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are collaborating to support South Africa’s green transformation ambitions. The DRC as an example, has abundant essential minerals required for renewable energy technologies.

These minerals can be advantageous to strategic alliances that promote sustainable resource extraction practices. Similarly, collaboration with Botswana to extend the automotive value chain could lead to new opportunities for green innovation and employment creation.

 Mitigating the risks from climate change.

We cannot ignore the severe impacts experienced in our country so far including drought, floods and devastating wildfires.

This will require a key focus on environmental sustainability and resource conservation. No further details were provided in Sona. Instead, a link was made to the Climate Change Bill and the need for a Climate Fund that will operate in a similar way to the pandemic-based Solidarity Fund. If a similar approach is taken, this would mean contributions from government, private sector, civil society and ordinary South Africans.

It remains to be seen how the impacts of climate change can be used to rally these groups to make impactful changes, and more so, how such a fund could be administered.

Mention was made on how the Climate Change Bill, drafted in 2022, can play in mitigating some of these risks, further lending itself to job creation and economic upliftment.

The Bill was developed to facilitate an efficient response to climate change with a fair and long-term transition for South Africa towards an economy and society that is low-carbon and climate-resilient.

Based on international commitments from the Bill, South Africa must ensure that it achieves the goals outlined in the pertinent laws, policies, legislations, and acts. This requires funding to be set aside to support the execution of the climate change legislation and the initiatives supported by the climate fund to guarantee this.

As with any financial instruments, strong governance and monitoring procedures must be in place to establish how funds are being allocated and used, and how the Climate Change Bill is being implemented.

This requires precise accountability frameworks, carrying out frequent audits, and encouraging openness in the process used to make decisions.

To ensure success, it is key a wide range of stakeholders need to be engaged in the planning, execution, and assessment process.

This will ensure interventions are suitable, inclusive of all social groups, and sensitive to the needs and priorities of the communities they affect. The goals of the Climate Change Bill, the priorities mentioned in the Sona speech, and other pertinent policies and tactics must all be coherent and in line with one another.

This is quite a feat, entailing working together across various government agencies and sectors to address climate change and advance sustainable development while minimising duplication, maximising synergies, and minimising conflicts.

It remains to be seen how this vision will translate, especially with the resources required.

*Dr Rajput is from Tomorrow Matters Now (TOMA-Now)

**The views expressed do not necessarily the views of Independent Media or IOL