/ 15 December 2023

UK and South Africa must drive international progress on shared priorities for the global good

Rain has brought farmers hope of a regular farming season.
Climate change’s impact on lives and livelihoods is accelerating, affecting developing countries the most, while instability and conflict threatens global security. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Around the world 701 million people remain in extreme poverty. Climate change’s impact on lives and livelihoods is accelerating, affecting developing countries the most, while instability and conflict threatens global security.  

At this time of profound global change, it has rarely been more important for countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa to work together in partnership. We live in a time of unprecedented international challenges. Tackling these and ensuring stability around the world is vital to the world’s prosperity. 

In recent years, international development has become both more vital and more difficult as the scale of the problem has grown. The destination — ending poverty in all its forms, taking action on climate change, achieving gender equality, establishing strong institutions — remains unchanged. 

The UK’s new international development White Paper sets out a plan to accelerate progress to eliminate extreme poverty, and address climate change and biodiversity loss. At the heart of the strategy is the clear message that no country can determine its future alone. 

Climate change does not respect national boundaries, nor do pandemics, and the consequences of conflicts are felt far and wide, making investing in development not only the right thing to do, but the wise thing to do because these problems are a problem for us all.  

In South Africa, the UK is working hard in many ways to harness the benefits of our interconnectedness, through trade and finance to boost inclusive growth, create jobs and help to tackle the energy crisis.  

I am proud of what we are collaborating on. First and foremost, we are putting women and girls centre stage in our development efforts. We cannot achieve meaningful, inclusive development if we are leaving half of the population behind. 

We will continue our ambition to help end gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, building on our existing partnership with the GBVF Response Fund and alongside other civil society organisations and human rights defenders, who are leading efforts to defend and achieve equality in our communities.   

The UK is committed to supporting South Africa’s economic growth and creating the jobs that are urgently needed to lift millions of South Africans out of poverty. The UK is already the largest source of international investment in South Africa, and we are increasingly using that position to help build a more inclusive economy. 

We are financing new clean energy plants and affordable housing; investing in growing South African businesses so they can expand and create new jobs; and funding work on township economic development to address historic inequality in access to economic opportunity.  

Our collaboration on science, research, innovation and technology has a long history — in 1995 we were the first country to sign a memorandum of understanding with South Africa after the historic elections in 1994. We updated it during President Ramaphosa’s state visit to the UK last year. Working together, we are harnessing science and technology in areas of mutual interest including emerging technologies, agriculture, health, higher education, climate and energy, and space.

Just last week, I had the privilege of speaking at Science Forum South Africa, which showcased the country’s influence in Africa and beyond. We are working together with essential knowledge exchange opportunities to achieve key goals in areas such as improving food security and sustainable water access. 

As part of the International Partners Group (IPG, also including France, Germany, the USA and the EU and now Denmark and the Netherlands) we are working closely with the South African government to meet their ambitions for a just energy transition. We remain steadfast in our commitment to helping to shift the dial on South Africa’s renewable energy transition as a means of tackling inequality, ending load-shedding and ensuring no one is left behind. 

The IPG has also increased both the grant financing committed by existing and new members by 113% since inception. The UK has supported over 15 start-up companies (at least five in Mpumalanga) so they are better placed to raise finance and increase jobs, it has supported a new curriculum for vehicle mechanics so that they are ready for the transition to electric vehicles and advised Johannesburg metro on how to plan for electric vehicles.  

Meanwhile, a new round of climate funding through our South Africa-UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions (South Africa-UK PACT) programme will further drive innovation and high impact solutions to aid the transition to a low-carbon future.  

This includes grant-funded support to develop municipal energy generation, international alignment of South Africa’s green finance taxonomy and the development of South Africa’s green hydrogen economy.  Local ownership and delivery through local organisations are at the heart of UK PACT projects which are demand-led and respond to targeted requests from South African  counterparts. 

Globeleq, a subsidiary of the UK’s Development Finance Institution, British International Investment (BII), has deployed more than 384 megawatts of renewable energy projects, pioneering the use of wind energy in South Africa to help the energy crisis. The BII has created more than 54,000 jobs a year since 2014 in South Africa. 

The UK is also helping to enhance South Africa’s capacity to build resilience and respond to the effects of climate change. This includes support through the C40 Cities Finance Facility, which recently launched three adaptation projects in Mbombela, Drakenstein and Cape Town. 

The traditional donor recipient relationship is a thing of the past because development can be achieved through more than just the flow of aid money. It is also about bringing private capital investments behind the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and delivering international financial system reform. 

As well as our technical assistance grant funding, some of our programmes are also helping to mobilise private capital to enable South Africa to transition to a low carbon, green economy. For instance, the UK’s Market Accelerator for Green Construction programme, has already helped to mobilise more than $300 million in dedicated green building financing in South Africa. 

In 2013, then prime minister, and now foreign secretary, David Cameron, co-chaired a high-level United Nations panel with then Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and then Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyo that informed the SDGs.

Now the UK’s new approach to international development seeks to capitalise on a major opportunity to scale up finance from multilateral banks to unlock hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade for developing countries. It is in our mutual interest to adapt to the realities of today. 

South Africa’s role as a leading voice in the Global South means the UK has an opportunity to work side-by-side with South Africa to drive international progress on these shared priorities. We must be bold, creative and united to face the challenges of today head on, and to build a mutually beneficial future for us all.