Alex Lenferna has, for years, tirelessly fought for environmental change and social justice, drawing on his personal and professional experiences in the field. He is a co-founder and the general secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition, a grouping of civil society, grassroots and community-based organisations and trade unions, which works to achieve a transformative climate justice agenda. Together the 60 organisations are advancing a transformative vision of climate justice that works to overcome the deep inequality, poverty and multiple injustices that South Africa faces, including being one of the world’s most polluting and unequal countries. A central campaign of the coalition is for a Green New Eskom, which calls for a rapid and just transition to a more socially owned, renewable energy economy. Alex’s effectiveness is evident in his on-the-ground work, academic writing and teaching, podcasts, news articles and day-to-day activism. He has been targeted for his pro-green ideas by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, highlighting the impact he has already made. Alex, a first generation South African whose family is from Mauritius, has a PhD on climate and energy justice from the University of Washington and is a Mandela Rhodes and Fulbright scholar. His research focuses on how a climate justice agenda can bring about transformation in South Africa. He was previously a climate justice campaigner with the nonprofit 350.org, which is building a grassroots climate justice movement globally. He has published opinion pieces in numerous news outlets including the Mail & Guardian, The Guardian, Jacobin and The Conversation, as well as more than 12 academic publications.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
The Climate Justice Coalition is building a powerful, diverse, and united coalition of organisations dedicated to tackling the climate crisis. We have more than 60 member organisations from trade unions to youth groups and mining affected communities to health justice organisations.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
Our coalition and its members have been at the forefront of challenging the government’s decisions to try to lock our country into a polluting, expensive and unreliable energy future. Our Green New Eskom campaign is pushing instead for a rapid and just transition to a more socially owned renewable energy-powered economy, providing clean, safe and affordable energy for all, with no worker and community left behind in the transition.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
One of the biggest challenges has been the capture of governments by harmful, polluting and rapacious corporations who put their profit over the well-being of workers, people and the environment. That’s why we as a coalition have put so much energy trying to put pressure on and transform the department of mineral resources and energy through our #UprootTheDMRE campaign and mobilisations. It is a department captured by the fossil fuel industry, and pushing forward new coal, oil and gas at precisely the time that the science says we must urgently move away from fossil fuels to avert the worst of the climate crisis.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
It is clear that if we do not urgently tackle the climate crisis, then the progress we have made on development, poverty alleviation — and building a more just world — will be reversed. According to a report by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, if we do not act on climate change, its effects are likely to undermine the basic rights to life, water, food and housing for hundreds of millions of people. It could also undermine democracy and the rule of law. If we do not take drastic action on climate change, then “human rights might not survive the coming upheaval”.