/ 28 October 2021

Editorial: Political parties in climate denial

Local government is on the front line of the climate crisis

And its local governments that can make or break tackling climate change.

Around the world, they are seen as key to the success of national climate strategies, with more than 70% of climate reduction measures and as much as 90% of climate adaptation measures undertaken by them, according to the United Nations Development Programme. 

That’s because municipalities plan disaster risk reduction management responses against extreme weather; develop green infrastructure; implement waste reduction plans; source clean local energy, improve public transport and create more green spaces, among others.

Yet, from our three major political polities — the ANC, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters — there is a near-deafening silence in their election manifestos about how they will prioritise climate action, environmental justice and South Africa’s just transition to a low-carbon society.

They are in climate denial.

As the climate crisis deepens globally, both the ANC and DA manifestos mention climate change just once and, although the EFF has a brief section in its manifesto devoted to climate change and the environment, environmental justice activists have described this as lacklustre.

Climate change is largely absent from the DA’s manifesto — other than in the mention of LED street lighting to keep carbon emissions low and recycled plastic roads in Jeffreys Bay — while the ANC’s manifesto gives a vague nod to “sustainability” and “green issues”. 

It makes promises to increase the share of renewable energy but lacks any ambitious goals for the phasing out of greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels. The EFF, meanwhile, plans on giving businesses incentives to use clean energy and to install solar power on houses built in EFF-run municipalities.

Both climate change and the environment occupy the least amount of space in these unambitious manifestos. Worse still, the ANC, DA and EFF seem oblivious to the climate shocks that are hammering the region such as El Niño induced droughts, cyclonic storms and more frequent and intense heatwaves. 

The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that in just a decade, the planet’s temperature will exceed a 1.5°C increase. For Southern Africa, which is warming at twice the global rate, this means at least a 3°C rise, which will collapse the maize and livestock sectors and dry out our limited water sources.

A new report from the United Nations this week, ahead of COP26 climate negotiations, warned that the latest climate promises pledged by governments put the world on track for a temperature rise this century of at least 2.7°C, which will be devastating for our region. 

South Africa already faces numerous crises including hunger, poverty, unemployment, inequality, rampant corruption and the epic failure to deliver basic services — all of which are being worsened by the climate crisis. Many people in rural areas are already living in a perpetual Day Zero, and small-scale subsistence farmers have had to stop farming because of the relentless drought.

Yet our major political parties choose to be ignorant to the harmful effects of extreme weather and the importance of environmental integrity in delivering basic services.

As one environmental justice activist put it, if we don’t deal with the issues of climate change by making that link to the food-energy-water nexus, “we are basically imploding”.