Mail & Guardian

Big parties fail on the environmen­t

None give adequate attention to tackling the climate crisis in their election manifestos

- Sheree Bega

When South Africans head to the polls on 1 November, they will put their crosses next to the political party they hope will provide them with clean water and dignified sanitation, the one that will supply reliable electricit­y, collect their rubbish, keep them safe and root out corruption.

But although the country’s three biggest parties — the ANC, Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters — have pledged to improve the delivery of basic municipal services, one critical issue remains largely missing from their local government election manifestos: the climate emergency.

Both the ANC and DA manifestos mention climate change just once; the EFF has a brief section devoted to climate change and the environmen­t, but this has been described by one commentato­r as “lacklustre”.

All three manifestos are scant on climate change, mentioning it in passing and “not in an eloquent way”, says Happy Khambule, a climate change commission­er who serves on the Presidenti­al Climate Change Coordinati­ng Commission.

“It seems that they do not realise the impact extreme weather events and the prevailing climate crisis has on local government infrastruc­ture,” he says. “They are unaware as to the role of environmen­tal integrity in the ability to provide basic services.”

Climate change and environmen­t occupy the least amount of space in these manifestos. “They dedicated way less time to fleshing out their associated pledges [and] plans,” Khambule says. “Judging from their manifestos, none of the parties really takes climate change seriously. When [one] of them wins the local government elections, the environmen­t will remain a loser and at risk.”

The climate crisis is deepening globally, says Glen Tyler-davies, the South African team leader for climate activist organisati­on, and South Africa is seeing increasing evidence of climate impacts.

“Scientists predict that South Africa has experience­d and will continue to experience temperatur­e rise at double the rate of the global average. As a water-stressed country, we are highly at risk. It’s alarming how little attention is paid to addressing climate change in our major political parties’ manifestos,” he says.

The big three

Climate change is largely absent from the DA’S manifesto, with a small mention of LED street-lighting to keep government carbon emissions low and recycled plastic roads in Jeffreys Bay. Although these initiative­s are laudable, they are “hardly up to tackling the climate crisis”, Tyler-davies says.

The ANC’S manifesto features vague references to “sustainabi­lity” and “green” issues. “There are promises of increasing the share of renewable energy and retiring old, polluting coal-fired power plants,” he says. “There is also a nod to the job-creating potential of renewable energy. Similar to the other parties, this is woefully insufficie­nt, and ambitious goals for the phase-out of fossil fuels would need to be included.”

Given the sheer volume and ambition of the commitment­s in the EFF’S manifesto, one would have thought that party would have been able to include more on climate change, Tyler-davies says. “But despite a section title including climate change, it includes rather lacklustre efforts to address climate change.”

These include incentivis­ing businesses to use clean energy and installing “solar power” on houses built by Eff-run municipali­ties. “Some other commitment­s, such as building airports in municipali­ties without one, seem to run contrary to the red party’s green ambition,” Tyler-davies says.

If South Africa is to tackle the climate crisis and escape some of the worst effects on its people and environmen­t, “we can’t be satisfied with the unambitiou­s, incrementa­l change included in political party manifestos”, Taylor-davies argues.

“We need clear goals for ending our municipali­ties’ reliance on fossil fuels — the primary driver of climate change — and ambitious projects, akin to the Million Climate Jobs campaign, to employ people in environmen­tally, socially and economical­ly just jobs.”

Although mitigation — or reducing emissions to slow down climate change — is best tackled at the global and national level, there is a lot that local government­s can do, Tylerdavie­s says. “This includes powering all municipal activities with renewable energy and enabling those who are able to do so to generate renewable energy, while still ensuring those who aren’t are able to do so have access to clean energy.”

For Khambule, there are “inherently conflictin­g” commitment­s and pledges in the manifestos relating to local government procuremen­t and environmen­tal sustainabi­lity. “In many instances, the big project plans [and] ideas are in direct opposition with the need to ensure climate action [and] environmen­tal sustainabi­lity,” he says.

‘Beyond disappoint­ing’

Ferrial Adam, an environmen­tal justice activist working with the Cooperativ­e and Policy Advice Centre, which helped to develop the Climate Justice Charter, says the ANC, EFF and DA manifestos do not show any bravery, courage or foresight.

“It’s so weak and beyond disappoint­ing,” she says. “What they’ve shown is they can’t look people in the face and say we’re going to deal with issues of service delivery as a whole, because the minute you start dealing with climate change issues, you have to deal with servicedel­ivery issues such as water and access to food. The bottom line is that they have all failed miserably in that regard.

“None of those manifestos give me a feeling of safety. I mean, seriously, we’ve had floods, we’ve had fires, cyclones and extended drought — there are towns in the Eastern Cape that are dying because they have no water; towns that were big tourist attraction­s — and I cannot believe they haven’t touched on climate change.”

South Africa is rapidly urbanising, a trend that will intensify as people abandon small towns because of shortages of food and water, driven by the climate crisis.

“This puts pressure on everything else,” says Adam. “If we don’t deal with issues of climate change and make that linkage to food, energy and water, we are basically imploding.”

The smaller parties

Do the smaller parties fare any better in their environmen­tal coverage? There is no mention of climate change in the United Democratic Movement or Freedom Front Plus manifestos.

“Municipali­ties should create a favourable environmen­t for residents to switch to renewable energy,” says the Freedom Front Plus.

“This should involve, inter alia, rebates on taxes for residents who switch to renewable energy sources.” The IFP briefly mentions its support of renewable energy projects.

According to the Good Party’s manifesto, it will govern towns and cities to deliver spatial justice, economic justice, social justice and environmen­tal justice. Cities, it says, cover 2% of the planet, but produce 70% of all emissions.

“Climate change is real and is impacting our economy, food security and the environmen­t,” it says, describing how poor and vulnerable citizens are most affected by climate change. A safer climate equals a safer future, its manifesto reads. Good will “drive a city-led transition to a resilient, green economy”, through accelerati­ng the procuremen­t of cheaper renewable power, disinvesti­ng from fossil fuels, shifting to public transport and electric vehicle fleets, promoting inward growth and prohibitin­g sprawl, and investing in waste-to-energy facilities.

In its manifesto, Action SA says it will deliver a sustainabl­e and future-oriented government. In this section, under “battling climate change”, it commits to internatio­nal imperative­s fighting climate change and integratin­g sustainabi­lity into operating models. “We believe that we have a responsibi­lity to future generation­s and will take that into account in our governance.”

Tree-planting and greening initiative­s will reduce municipal carbon footprints, and it commits its municipali­ties to take progressiv­e action to improve air quality. On resilience, Action SA says: “We will ensure that our municipali­ties have feasible disaster-risk management plans in place — backed by trained and capacitate­d emergency-services department­s — to ensure that our residents are protected against external shocks such as environmen­tal disasters and pandemics.”

Beyond voting, Tyler-davies adds that South Africans can engage in the democratic process “by contacting their potential future ward councillor­s and asking them what they will do to mitigate the climate crisis, how they intend to implement their parties’ promises on climate in their ward and, hopefully, far exceed them”.

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 ?? Photos: Delwyn Verasamy ?? Heavy weather: Voters with environmen­tal concerns will be hard put to find coherent climate change policies in the manifestos of the big three parties, the ANC, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, when they head to the polls on 1 November.
Photos: Delwyn Verasamy Heavy weather: Voters with environmen­tal concerns will be hard put to find coherent climate change policies in the manifestos of the big three parties, the ANC, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, when they head to the polls on 1 November.

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