None of South Africa’s political parties understands the climate crisis as part of a larger ecological crisis.
“More extraction, pollution, chemical-based agriculture, waste, deforestation and over-consumption are undermining natural cycles of the earth system and accelerating species extinction,” reads a climate justice critique of political party election manifestos published by the Co-Operative and Policy Alternative Centre and the SA Food Sovereignty Campaign.
“The science on climate change from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that as planet Earth is heated through more greenhouse gas emissions, from burning coal, oil and gas, we will have more extreme weather shocks such as droughts, heatwaves, floods and cyclones We have 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate change.”
As inequality worsens, the cost of living soars and more people battle unemployment, South Africa’s worst drought in recorded history still ravages various villages and towns.
Yet all political parties have failed to recognise it as a climate shock.
The ANC’s response, in particular, has been dismal, the report says. “A national disaster was declared in early 2018 after the food system collapsed, many communities were ravaged by the drought and after the national Department of Water Affairs was looted, with various water delivery projects compromised.
“The drought continues in SA and there is no leadership from the ANC to learn lessons and prepare for the next round of climate shocks. The drought and the climate crisis are not mentioned in the manifesto and there is no explicit theme dealing with the climate crisis.”
Political parties seemed surprised by Cyclone Idai, another climate shock, and its devastation. “None of South Africa’s political parties understand or would like to voice the complexity of the climate crisis.”
The ANC manifesto vaunts its successes and is “very self congratulatory” yet South Africa has an economy in deep crisis where inequalities, unemployment and hunger have increased.
“Climate shocks will only deepen the suffering of the majority.”
The authors say the Arms Deal, Nkandla, “Ace Gate” and Bosasa scandals are the “tip of the rotten rubbish heap” with the auditor general recording irregular government expenditure in 2017/2018 at R72 billion.
“The country knows through the Zondo commission how ANC factions have been engaged in state capture regarding Eskom. The ANC cannot be trusted with leading industrialisation of renewables laying the basis for a transition to a renewable systems, for resolving the challenges of Eskom and fixing our water systems.”
The DA, say the authors, failed to prepare Cape Town for its drought, despite science based warnings and academic warnings.
“Its day-zero approach placed a squeeze on poor households and passed on the pressure of managing the drought to working class, middle class and poor households. It did not challenge water ownership and control by white agricultural interests. It forced the use of desalination plants as an emergency measure and great cost to taxpayers.
“Its encouragement of boreholes in Cape Town and smaller towns, only affordable by the wealthy, threatens the long-term viability of aquifers.
“The DA supports fracking, nuclear and off-shore gas extraction. Like the ANC, it still has a shallow conception of how to get to a zero-carbon economy.”
The EFF, it says, has a section on environment and climate in its manifesto, but still supports a carbon, mainly coal-based and mining-driven economy. “It’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis, let alone the larger planetary ecological crisis, is incoherent
“The EFF is committed to resource nationalism based on reproducing SA’s toxic minerals-energy complex which has immense potential to be even more corrupt than what we are experiencing
“Our water resources are being compromised by more mining, including coal mining, which the EFF supports. An example of contradictory EFF practice is their support for the Xolobeni community’s rejection of mining Corruption has affected water infrastructure delivery and the EFF is no shining example of fighting corruption.”
The authors say there is a crisis of climate leadership among all political parties .
“None are committed to ensuring the country, the region and the continent is on a climate emergency footing.”
South Africa’s coal addiction makes it a “carbon criminal state. More climate change brings climate inequalities and injustices through escalating food and water costs as well as job losses. Many farm workers have been retrenched in the context of South Africa’s drought”.
No grasp of green issues in manifestos
The stark realities of the devastating impacts of the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and in the Eastern Cape are in the public’s consciousness but climate change hardly stands out as a major, well-articulated issue ahead of next week’s election.
Although climate change and environmental protection are mentioned in varying degrees in the election manifestos of 11 key political parties, they “have failed to mainstream these issues”.
This week, Action 24 - Active Citizens for Responsive Legislatures - released a non-partisan environmental scorecard assessing the manifestos against the benchmarks of the Paris Climate Agreement and recent scientific evidence on climate change.
Produced with co-funding from the EU, its analysis identified the lack of a comprehensive, ambitious and innovative vision of what a low-carbon, just and inclusive society should look like and the deep systemic transformation that must take place to achieve it.
“It’s safe to say that climate change as it’s represented in the manifestos, lacks understanding and lacks acceptance of the fact that it is already happening,” remarked Happy Khambule, senior political adviser at Greenpeace Africa.
Action 24’s analysis found that only the Green Party of SA best articulated climate and environmental action into its political vision, calling for a radical new approach to socio-economic development and governance.
But even the Green Party and the EFF, which were ranked the two “best’ scoring parties, were still found lacking and “don’t come close to offering a satisfactory vision that articulates environmental sustainability or climate, environmental and social justice”.
Noelle Garcin, Action 24 project manager, said the DA, EFF, UDM, Cope, IFP, Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party and Good Party, do mention climate change and environmental sustainability as key issues that South Africa needs to address in their overall vision.
The manifestos of the Green Party, ANC, and EFF make cross-sectional references, but this is limited for the ANC and EFF.
Several parties suggest that job creation and economic growth justify unsustainable practices. “A typical example is the contradiction between carbon emission reduction commitments and other economic proposals such as oil and gas exploration, the continued reliance on ‘clean’ or ‘safe’ coal to power development, or the desire to increase air traffic to and from South Africa as in the DA manifesto.
“The ANC is probably the most explicit in promoting mining and fossil fuels extraction as major economic drivers, regardless of the environmental and socio-economic price tag.
“The DA, EFF, UDM, Cope highlight the potential of the green economy, but one would have hoped this would have underpinned their general economic outlook.”
Climate and environmental issues, Garcin said, are intrinsically linked to key concerns such as economic and social inequality, health, housing, energy access as well as governance and corruption.
“Voters should be critical of measures that propose to address climate change in isolation from other economic and developmental issues.”
Pitting economic growth and jobs against sustainable environmental practices is artificial and misleading, “unless one hopes to continue doing business as usual and preserving the status quo”, Garcin said.