Worried about your rights? Check which party has an environmental plan it can perform

Children play in the township of Demat, south of Durban, where South Africa's power company Eskom installed solar heaters on roofs. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

Children play in the township of Demat, south of Durban, where South Africa's power company Eskom installed solar heaters on roofs. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

“Your Constitution was a big moment for us – it showed everyone that people can have rights.” The speaker is an Ecuadorian, a country in themidst of a democratic socialist revolution. This means rethinking the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship – and the chance to rethink the relationship between people and nature.

“South Africa was this moment, this light-bulb moment in history, where we started thinking about codifying environmental rights.”

The speaker is part of a new wave of eco-activists who are drafting environmental legislation across South America. This means the natural world now has rights that the state is forced to protect.

Section 24 of South Africa’s Bill of Rights guarantees people the right to an environment that is clean and not harmful to their health.
The South American models have moved past this, giving the environment agency and guaranteeing its rights.

This revolutionary moment in environment legislation is owed to the ANC codifying the environment into the Constitution. The party can claim to be a world leader in terms environmental law and the rhetoric it uses regarding climate change.

Many parties are looking for your vote next week. The Mail & Guardian has gone through their manifestos to find out which ones are the real deal. References to the environment are generally oblique because local elections are about tangible delivery issues. So environmental health and climate change are expressed in terms of things such as solar panels on homes and cleaner factories.

  The ruling party has an enviable track record when it comes to rhetoric and legislation. Under its watch the environment has been given all sorts of protections. Ecosystems are protected and developers – in theory – have to do a lot to justify development. Big polluters have to lower emissions of dangerous gases and consider the people who live around them. Solar parks supplement the grid, while bringing expertise and money into rural areas.

But many of these protections are undermined by a lack of implementation. Environmental activists spend their time trying to convince government to stop companies breaking the law and polluting rivers and the air. Mining has been given carte blanche to destroy vast swaths of grassland and wetlands in provinces such as Mpumalanga.

Corruption and influence have often defeated the legislation meant to protect the environment.

Government bodies meant to provide oversight – such as the Blue Scorpions water affairs inspectorate – have been stripped of resources and in other cases suffer from political interference.

But the party’s election manifesto is the only one to have a whole section dedicated to climate change. It deals with the current failures of municipalities to protect the environment. That is a product of devolution of power from central government, but little corresponding increase in the skills base available to municipalities. This means municipalities decide on air quality permits when they do not have the personnel who can weigh up an application for these permits.

At the core of the ANC’s plan are “spatially integrated communities”, in which sustainable development creates neighbourhoods that use solar water heating and protect things such as natural water resources.

Verdict: Vote ANC if you like reading about how good the world could be, but are okay watching coal mines destroy wetlands.

  The Economic Freedom Fighters has very little to say about climate change, and only a fraction more to say about the environment. The party commits the sin of ignoring the damage climate change will cause to development and the people in rural areas it seeks to entice. These changes are slated to reverse the achievements gained with the millennium development goals.

Where it does talk about the environment, it is only important inasmuch as a broken environment is another indictment on the mining industry, which the party wishes to nationalise.

The EFF does, however, see the growth of renewable energy as a chance for South Africa to create a new industry. More than 1000MW of renewable energy is already being generated. These projects have brought more than R100-billion in investment into the country. The party says the government should pour money into this sector.

Verdict: Vote EFF if you want dramatic shortterm change and a party that does not seem to appreciate the long-term effects of climate change and ecosystem failure.

  The African Christian Democratic Party advocates a free market economy with a social conscience. This means a country that is competitive and takes measures to look after people as well as the environment.

But its local elections manifesto is light on the environment. Alternative transport and cycle lanes are mentioned as a way of improving traffic congestion and improving air quality. Alternative energy and rainwater harvesting are planned for rural areas, so that services can be fast-tracked.

Verdict: Vote ACDP if you think a higher being will fix the planet, and are okay with less emphasis on what mortal beings can do to that effect.

  The Democratic Alliance’s sales pitch hinges on projects dotted across the Western Cape. Here it talks about things such as the Kleinmond Housing Project, where green technology has allowed homes to use less electricity and collect their own water.

Its election manifesto has a section on “environmentally sustainable development”. This points to the DA’s local government work, saying the party has a track record of “energy-efficient and environment sustainability through superior resource management”.

Everything in this manifesto is about efficiency, from capturing rainwater to building desalination plants along the coast. The party even embraces the technology for treating sewage water to the point that people can drink it.

The end goal of all these plans is to create communities that use green technology to look after themselves, and to sell electricity back to the grid. Those communities can then join together and transform the country into a resource-efficient powerhouse. In theory.

Verdict: Vote DA if you like the legislation put in place by the ANC, but like the colour blue and think the party really could shift local municipalities into implementing that legislation.

  The IFP has less of a manifesto and more of a series of items the voter should “trust” the party to do better than the current government.

The environment does not feature. Where water is mentioned, it is in a promise that the party will declare a state of emergency to deal with the drought.

Verdict: Vote IFP if you have few concerns about environmental degradation, or the future of the planet.

The rest
  The smaller the party, the less the focus on the environment. Some have a great deal to promise when it comes to the environment – such as the Workers and Socialist Party – but most do not even mention the word. Service delivery is king.

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