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Build a better future

Climate change provides South Africa with both extraordinary risks and opportunities.

Our preparedness as a country, as a sort of “South Africa Incorporated”, will determine whether we experience more the risks or the opportunities. And given the focus on infrastructure spending in the countries phase of development, “greening” our infrastructure is probably the best place to start.

Every 1.5°C temperature change globally translates into a 3°C increase in Southern Africa — and the region is little prepared for the hardship and social disruption that may result. Yet with Africa achieving higher rates of economic growth in recent decades and needing connective infrastructure to support such growth, there is an ideal opportunity for the region and the continent to build a greener development path for itself.

Reducing the vulnerability of communities and countries to the negative consequences of climate change and taking advantage of the emerging opportunities needs to be an essential component of long-term spatial planning and economic and social development strategies. There are both risks and opportunities for integrating climate change considerations into their ­development paths.

However, increasingly countries around the world are ­demonstrating, project by project, that sustainable development holds more promise than outdated ­developmental models. This promise can be realised through exploiting the potential for infrastructure investment programmes to be greener.

A growing evidence base disproves the perception that we have to choose between development and the environment. Although the discourse often focuses on the costs of transition, greening infrastructure is an opportunity for more sustainable investment and efficient use of our natural resources.

So what do we mean by “greening infrastructure”? It is infrastructure that will have a reduced environmental impact or even benefit the environment. It is the integration of sustainability, resilience and ­ecological infrastructure into infrastructure planning and delivery.

Greener infrastructure will be ­resilient and take into account the effects of climate change and ­variability and will thus facilitate more enduring infrastructure and avoid additional retrofitting costs for poorly conceived investments. It should be apparent that greening infrastructure is a vital component of infrastructure that is better integrated and planned.

Finally, greener infrastructure must have a bias towards the sustainable use of ecological infrastructure, which is the “original infrastructure” without which society and the economy cannot thrive. In summary, greener infrastructure is an eminently sensible approach to ­infrastructure investment.

How would we go about implementing this agenda and building sustainable imperatives into infrastructure programmes? First we need to enhance the capacity of the state to do development planning and incorporate the goals of climate resilience into long-term development strategies.

The development plan of the National Planning Commission and the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission are good starts in this direction and need to be supported. Right now, the government’s effort should be focused on the creation of enabling environments through ­legislation, standards and regulations and ensuring the capability to implement and monitor these.

The Development Bank of South Africa recently partnered the department of environmental affairs to support the establishment of enabling environments for greener infrastructure and identify green infrastructure ­programme opportunities.

More generally, the bank has partnered international development finance institutions to try to influence the global green agenda so that it reflects the needs of the developing world better and allows direct access for institutions that have on-the ground implementation experience.

We are also investigating how we can co-operate better with development finance institutions on green projects, whether with traditional partners or new partners through the recent designation of the bank as the bank of reference for South Africa within the Brics architecture, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

At home, the bank is assisting the South African government in the design of a mechanism to better co-ordinate green finance flows. Most importantly, the bank, in partnership with key government ­departments, will investigate ways in which government expenditure on ­infrastructure can be “greened”.

The infrastructure choices we make today become literally embedded, both in the economy and society that future generations will inherit. Countries and economic sectors will become locked into particular “green” technologies and supply chains, with ramifications for future economic growth and the creation of decent work.

The advent of the green economy, with infrastructure at its core, may well be the turning point for many countries, much as the industrial revolution was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Making the right choices now requires accurate information and evidence-based policy.

The bank has a research agenda that has included joint research on the potential for green jobs in the South African economy. We are also piloting a carbon footprint tool that may allow us to determine a baseline analysis of our greenhouse gas emissions in major investment projects.

The bank is eager to identify opportunities for investment in green infrastructure and will expand its investments in renewable energy and other projects to further develop a green infrastructure portfolio. Vital to this process will be the design and facilitation of innovative financing solutions and an approach that encourages full life-cycle costing and sustainable asset management policies.

Green infrastructure is vital to a successful transition to a green economy and a better future for Southern Africa.

Ravi Naidoo is group executive of the Development Bank of South Africa and David Jarvis is the divisional executive leading talks with government on green programmes

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

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