SA’s economy cleans up with green jobs for greenhorns

Trumpeting the job creation successes of her department’s green sector projects at a World Environment Day function in the Free State on Tuesday, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said South Africa welcomed the worldwide shift towards green economies, since the country was endowed with a wealth of biodiversity. 

This gives the country a competitive edge, she told the function, which was held under the banner of the global theme for this year: “Green Economy: Does It Include You?”

Tens of thousands of green jobs have already been created, but the potential for even more job opportunities was huge, Molewa said, adding that her department had started several projects around the country to bring investment to rural areas, which would otherwise hold no promise for growth. 

And the government’s budget of R7.7-billion for environmental programmes is just the tip of the iceberg, she said.

Green job opportunities
As many as 27 000 new job opportunities had been created in the last financial year, with 10 400 being full-time.

The R800-million boost for the Green Fund that the treasury recently announced should allow for the creation of a further 63 000 jobs in this financial year, she said. To aid this, green hubs were being created around the country to ensure decentralised growth where it was most needed.

This is in line with the Green Economy Accord, which the government recently entered. This seeks to create 300 000 jobs in the green economy by 2020, she said.

With a dearth of skilled workers, there would have to be a huge focus on education and formal training at higher learning institutions, she said.

“Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare themselves today,” she said.

Complementing the economy
Christelle Terreblanche, of South Africa’s national environmental agency Indalo Yethu, said the department’s plans were a chance to “ensure there is no conflict between economic and environmental health”. 

Rather than economic development happening to the detriment of the environment, they could be complementary, she said.

Indalo Yethu has created 3 000 job opportunities in ten rural towns by restoring the urban environment and getting rid of harmful waste, she said. 

Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), recently said that a small investment into adaptation and the green economy would save on the huge costs of managing the fallout in the future. By making green growth a solid basis of their economic development, countries could create jobs as well as sustaining their future, he said.

A recent report by UNEP, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, argued that an investment of 2% of global GDP in innovative technology and policies now would “keep humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries”.

‘Paradigm shift’
Without this, organisations like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have warned that humanity’s footprint could be the equivalent of three planets by 2050.    

The UN’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said this year’s theme “underscores the need for everyone to play their part in keeping humankind’s ecological footprint within planetary boundaries”. 

This requires a “paradigm shift towards a more sustainable world”, he said. 

UNEP defines the Green Economy as one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcity. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.”

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Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.
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