The Democratic Alliance’s upcoming policy conference could be a battleground for the party’s position on climate change.
The Mail & Guardian spoke to several DA members and public office bearers on how the party’s policy is geared towards addressing a warming climate and more unpredictable and erratic weather systems.
Some say the party appears to be backing away from its 2019 election manifesto of sustainable economic growth with responsive climate change policies.
Climate change is referenced 18 times in the party’s 83-page election document. The DA’s 2013 natural resources policy document also referenced the need for an environmentally sustainable economy extensively, saying: “For South Africa to contribute to the global effort to stabilise the climate system and to make our country more resilient to climate change.”
The document went further to say climate change “also offers the opportunity for the development and introduction of new technologies, the stimulation of demand for new products, and the associated creation of new jobs”.
In its 2020 draft policy document on economic justice the party seems to have toned down its enthusiasm, saying it would “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”.
Several DA members, who did not want to be named, said there were people in the party who didn’t believe climate change was a priority.
They added that there had been occasions when senior party members put up contrary views to the prevailing evidence of climate change. This, they argue, is because the DA has shifted further to the right, which culminated in the elevation of Helen Zille to its most powerful position — federal council chairperson.
It has also seen the strengthening of the argument that policy has to choose between development and taking action to reduce carbon emissions. Research shows that the two are not mutually exclusive.
“Some of these views that we’re starting to see come out are quite antiquated, and conservative. The focus is all about growth and jobs without considering the broader vision on how to transition to a more sustainable economy,” said one party member who will be present at the party’s policy conference.
In his response to the M&G’s questions, James Lorimer, the DA’s person in charge of climate and environment, said: “I don’t want anything to do with the Mail & Guardian. Fake journalism and a crap newspaper.”
But another DA member said there are calls for the party to adopt climate change policy as a priority issue at the party’s policy conference, adding it would have buy-in from its rank-and-file members and voters.
The member said climate change is an issue the DA must become familiar with because it is an issue that will affect voters.
“I think it is something voters are concerned about. Many in the party are trying to put climate change on the agenda,” the DA delegate said.
The party’s head of policy, Gwen Ngwenya, said an energy policy workshop would be held before the party held its conference, to outline its climate change response.
“This will inform our policy proposals on energy and climate change at the conference. But there is a lot of talk about it.
“It is front and centre of our agenda, and there’s an interest to respond to the global conversation around most sustainable energy use and how it drives economic growth,” she said.
Ngwenya last year tweeted asking for advice on books that are “fair to the arguments of both sides [of the climate change debate]”.
The DA’s policy conference was to have been held in April, but
the Covid-19 pandemic and regulations restricting physical contact and travel resulted in it being postponed.
It will now take place on virtual conferencing platforms on September 5 and 6.
The delay has given the various camps time to strategise on what resolutions to propose at the conference and to canvas support from voting delegates.
The party’s spokesperson, Solly Malatsi, said that most of the draft policy proposals have already been workshopped with provincial structures.
“It won’t be the first time delegates will be seeing the content of the policy proposals at the policy conference. So the two days we have set aside will be enough for the discussion, and the policy unit has been through all provinces to engage them on the draft proposals,” he said.
Malatsi said even though the conference would be virtual, there would be enough time during for delegates to raise resolutions from the floor.