Catastrophic climate change will affect the poorest – Climate commission

Public hearings are on the cards for the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), which has been tasked with developing a policy framework to ensure that the country’s move to a low carbon economy is just and equitable. 

In addition, the commission is planning a multi-stakeholder conference in March next year to consult people in rural areas affected by climate change. 

A recent study of more than 200 rural respondents in the Eastern Cape, where drought has severely affected quality of life and food security, found that although farmers are actively trying to build resilience against climate change, more coordination was needed between state entities and local government to support them. 

Parts of the Eastern Cape are the driest they have been in more than 90 years. 

“The focus should be on the management of drought, heatwaves, flood, and soil erosion. The government within the local municipality should also focus on building a dam for rural farmers. The dam will serve as a reservoir of water for irrigation during drought,” said the researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand and Nelson Mandela University. 

In the context of the high poverty levels (56%) the country suffers from, the researchers said the observed effects of climate change will continue to have severe consequences for  poor people in rural areas, “who are highly dependent on agricultural productivity for their livelihoods and income generation and have no or minimal assets portfolios to deploy and build their resilience and adaptive capacity”.

South Africa’s commitments under international climate agreements earmarked to stop any further climate damage means that it has to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels driving the economy and become carbon neutral by 2050. 

“The PCC will seek input from rural communities affected by catastrophic climate change building up to a multi-stakeholder conference on the just transition in March 2022 for a final report to the social partners by mid-2022,” said Vallie Moosa, the commission’s deputy chairperson. 

As a result of over-reliance on coal fired power, the transition is set to be a monumental shift for provinces — Mpumalanga in particular — where the local economy is driven by the coal value chain. 

The Just Transition Framework is meant to ensure that people are not left behind as South Africa becomes more reliant on renewable and clean energy sources’ and less reliant on coal. 

The Integrated Energy Resources Plan (IRP5) set the goal of reducing coal power by 60% by 2030, when several power stations reach their end of life. 

“The PCC plans to meet directly with those affected, like coal miners who have already lost jobs, workers in coal-fired power stations who stand to lose jobs through decommissioning as well as those who live in the surrounding communities and are dependent on that mining activity to support their livelihoods,” Moosa said. 

He was addressing the sitting of the 26th Annual National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) Summit on Monday.

In a recent dialogue that focused on the people aspect of the energy transition hosted by the economic research and think tank nonprofit, TIPS (Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies), policy advisers emphasised the need for South Africa’s transition to be highly inclusive of people most affected. 

Economist Gaylor Montmasson-Clair said the just transition was about people. 

“It’s about people who are at risk of losing their jobs when it comes to the phase out of certain value chains like coal given the restructuring and other economic activities. People whose employment is at jeopardy and also the nature of their employment. It’s about people who are at risk of losing their livelihoods not only directly employment, it might be economic activity that they rely on or support from their families from the changing economic activities that are being triggered by climate change,” he said. 

Montmasson-Clair said the just transition should ensure that those who are unable to adapt to the change are given support. 

Researcher Leleti Maluleke, of Good Governance Africa (GGA), told the Mail & Guardian that public participation was paramount for the country’s plans.  

“For a country like South Africa, which witnesses protests on a daily basis, community participation reduces the risk of locals acting out against policies they are not in favour with,” she said. 

“For communities such as those in Mpumalanga, who are the ones who bear the brunt of climate impacts, community participation is a platform for locals to voice out their concerns and needs. Communities are also made aware of the risks they face and therefore encouraged to take action.”

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Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Adamela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

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