The second transition will be green

The peaceful transition in South Africa in the early 1990s presented a unique opportunity for redress and recovery. Starting with the Constitution, new policies and legislation were developed across all sectors.

The ground-breaking National Environmental Management Act notes: “The environment is held in public trust for the people.
The beneficial use of environmental resources must serve the public interest and the environment must be protected as the people’s common heritage.”

South Africa’s approach asserts that social, economic and ecosystem factors are intrinsically linked and underpinned by systems of governance. Through this approach a sound green-economy strategy is being contextualised.

We have witnessed progress towards putting South Africa on the path of sustainable development, encompassing economic growth, social development and the conservation of natural resources.

Among a range of environmental constraints that are playing an increasing role in social and economic development planning, climate change presents the most urgent and far-reaching challenge.

Meeting global targets
Climate change is considered to be one of the most serious threats to sustainable development, because adverse effects are expected on the environment, human health, food security, economic activity and investment, natural resources and physical infrastructure.

It will also disproportionately affect the poor, who have not contributed to the causes of climate change and are the least equipped to adapt to its potential effects.

For us to meet global targets, we first need in-depth understanding of our way of life and doing business. We need to start evaluating our development progress and problems in the areas of energy and carbon dioxide emissions, land use, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality, environmental governance and environmental policies.

In the 2009 framework response to the international economic crisis, the South African government urged the development of incentives for investment in programmes geared at creating large numbers of “green jobs”—employment in industries and facilities that are designed to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on natural systems and ensure the protection of our environment.

The move to a more sustainable development path will create new green jobs, which may help to offset employment losses experienced in other sectors, open up new investment opportunities and export markets, support the creation of a knowledge-based economy and allow South Africa to set standards and demonstrate thought leadership.

Ignite local action
Green jobs can be defined as work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development, administrative and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality.

Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, reduce the consumption of energy, materials and water through high-efficiency strategies, decarbonise the economy and minimise or avoid the generation of all forms of waste and pollution.

The supply of services such as energy, water and transport, as well as the provision of infrastructure and healthcare, need to be improved in terms of capacity, quality and resource efficiency.

As we accelerate initiatives of this nature, we need to focus on urban development, which is critical to sustainable development’s performance.

It is clear that meaningful action should happen at a local government level, because this is the best place for us to initiate our focus.

Greening the Future is an initiative that must draw on international best practice in its design, maximise the use of available initiatives, ignite local action and reward everyone for better environmental performance.

By being proactive and taking action today, such initiatives present opportunities to ensure a sustainable future for all and make today another step in the direction of a solid climate-action partnership with all South Africans.

Edna Molewa is the minister of water and environmental affairs

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