Time for reflection, not celebration
Tabane is author of Lets Talk Frankly and host of Power Perspective on Power FM 98.7. Follow him on Twitter @JJTabane
TODAY’S World Environment Day Celebrations around the world have been dampened by the US’s undermining of the Paris Agreement. It is clear that the world will have to save tomorrow despite the US, even though it is the biggest culprit of carbon emissions in the world.
The question is what is our own country doing to be at the forefront of utilising the environment and the opportunities it provides, to save tomorrow today. The new buzzword of radical economic transformation has to apply to what can be termed the green revolution. Growing the green economy will require nothing less than a radical transformation.
The subject of global warming is well known. Over the years many campaigns have been embarked upon to raise levels of awareness of the risk that increased levels of greenhouse gases are causing to the future of the planet.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has rallied nations since 1995 to address the impact of climate change. It was only during the Paris Conference in 2015 that member states made progress and made commitments to deal with greenhouse gas emission mitigation, adaptation and finance aimed at encouraging fossil fuel divestment.
This was the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement – a clear indication that the world has not fully embraced a green revolution. The attitude of the US towards this agreement further underlines this ignorance.
While commitments have been made before, many countries have not heeded this as an urgent call. The change in attitude towards turning to green and cleaner forms of energy has been very slow. A big part of this is that when you are calling for radical transformation, you must be willing to allow the status quo to die, if need be.
This is the part that has been a challenge to many nations because the fossil fuel industry is big and many players and countries depend on oil proceeds. Most world economies are highly dependent upon fossil fuels. While we are on a witch hunt for white monopoly capital, climate change is putting our children’s future at risk.
Any sustained call for a green revolution has major implications for these big companies and oil-producing nations.
It will take bold governments and private sectors to admit to no longer being happy to report merely to meeting greenhouse emissions levels, but to have the determination to eliminate them as much as is possible.
This bold call to eliminate the use of fossil fuels will open our world to new possibilities and it has the potential to create new industries, including in the most rural of communities.
It is unfortunate that South Africa has lagged behind badly in this regard.
According to Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, South Africa is still implementing the first phase of the greenhouse gas emission mitigation system and it still needed to allocate carbon budgets to companies that were significant emitters of greenhouse gases. South Africa has also not yet finalised the national climate change adaptation strategy.
Part of the reason South Africa has also not moved quickly on this subject is because of how much fossil fuel companies are contributing to the economy. The World Summit on Sustainable Development, where the Johannesburg programme of action was adopted for these things to occur, was held 17 years ago.
At that global gathering, many companies made commitments but they now want to turn themselves into experts on renewable energy and determine the pace of transforming green economies. This motive is purely to safeguard their profits and has contributed to raising the costs of cleaner energy, making it a challenge for mass adaptation.
Quite frankly, there is a need for renewed political leadership on the question of the causal link between so-called radical economic transformation and the green revolution. I believe one of the solutions to transforming our economy is to embrace a green revolution in order to move us away from dependency on the few petroleum companies that have monopolised the industry and away from Eskom, whose woes continue to be a burden to the nation.
The recent visionless action by the Eskom leadership was the blowing of hot air on the issue of renewable energy and an illiterate hostility against independent power producers just because load shedding has been temporarily averted.
While it has become fashionable for our politicians to talk about radical transformation and developing township economies it seems they have few practical ideas to bring this to fruition.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the government decided to move all townships and rural communities from the Eskom grid and provide an alternative of either solar or wind energy. This would mean these solar power stations would need to come closer to communities, thereby increasing jobs closer to where people live.
The vast amount of land around communities can also be used to grow agricultural products and manufacturing plants for biofuels could be set up, again creating employment where people live. This must be followed up by ensuring that our education systems are aligned to national priorities, thereby developing skills to maintain and even innovate beyond the current old energy technology.
Once one key economic driver is in place in one township, it would also create other opportunities and incentives for investment. This will ensure that the millions that have been pumped into Eskom, for example, go towards creating a new model.
This will require visionary leadership that will not be comfortable to report, 20 years since climate change became a concern, that they are only implementing the first phase and have not finalised an adaptive strategy. This is a leadership that does not have interests in companies but is mostly interested in the development of the people of South Africa.
The reality is that Eskom has firmly modelled itself as a cash cow of old technology, creating no incentive among the political elite to consider rapid diversification of our energy mix. No wonder the biggest idea for an alternative is the ill-considered nuclear deal that has already been red-flagged by the courts.
Going green is not a pipe dream; other countries like Denmark have made decisions to switch the total energy supply (electricity, mobility, and heating and cooling) to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
In Africa, countries have embraced renewable energy more eagerly than we have in South Africa. Part of the reason is they never had Eskom corruption baggage hanging around their necks.
So, is there much to celebrate on World Environment Day? There is a lot to ponder but our answer does not lie in the mercy of the world superpowers but in what we can do with our wealth of natural resources.
GOING GREEN: Environmental Affairs minister, Edna Molewa attends a media briefing. There is not much to celebrate on World Environment Day, says the writer.