A green SA economy: ‘The train is shifting direction’

Business, labour and government signed a green-economy accord on Thursday, committing these sectors to the creation of 300 000 jobs by building a green industrial base in South Africa.

The accord, spearheaded by the department of economic development, comes hard on the heels of the National Development Plan: Vision 2030, launched last week by the National Planning Commission, and just 10 days before the COP17 meeting starts in Durban.

The programme comprises 12 overarching commitments, including increasing investment in the green economy, enhancing renewable energy procurement, the development of biofuels, clean coal initiatives, promoting energy efficiency across the economy, waste recycling and reducing carbon emissions through improved public transport and a shift in freight from road to rail.

Under the accord the state restated its intention to roll out a million solar water heaters by 2014.

Renewable energy, including wind power generation, is targeted for the creation of 50 000 jobs by 2020. Of these, about 6 500, or 8%, would be for engineers and technicians.

The industry is also tied to a localisation target of at least 35% by 2016, while moving towards an “aspirational” target of 75% in a bid to ensure that green goods and projects bolster local manufacturing.

The green-economy accord is the fourth in a series aimed at bolstering the department’s New Growth Path framework. Other accords include those on skills and local procurement and Patel hinted that an accord on enterprise development was next on the cards.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the green accord promised to change the structure of the economy from capital-intensive to labour-intensive activities. The economy was too reliant on industries such as mining and heavy chemicals, which could not create the jobs necessary to address poverty and inequality.

“This agreement will make a huge contribution in turning the structure of the economy around so that we rely more in the future on the manufacturing capacity of the country. The train is slowly shifting its direction,” Vavi said.

Reliant on the state
The accord was supported by business through Business Unity South Africa, labour unions and community constituencies.

But the New Growth Path, of which green industrial development is an aspect, has been criticised for being too heavily reliant on the state.

The state has also been criticised for failing to deliver on its promises because of capacity constraints and a failure to co-ordinate policy.

The commission’s development plan noted these concerns in its proposals for moving towards a low-carbon economy.

“A crucial constraint that affects the state’s ability to lead is a lack of co-ordination between government departments,” it said.

The mandates of the various government institutions involved in this work were also too loosely defined, resulting in the duplication of roles. “Aligning existing and future policy is therefore essential,” the plan said, adding that it was also crucial that climate change mitigations and adaptation work were incorporated into all government departments at provincial, national and local level.

Concerns about the capacity of the state were “valid and legitimate”, said Patel.

“But in very practical ways we are resolving this. There is no silver bullet; no one statement that any of us can make.”

The role of the accords was to promote partnership with business, labour and communities and setting clear, public goals, said Patel.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.
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