/ 27 May 2024

Parties still not prepared to tackle climate change and energy poverty

Solar Getty
The Just Energy Transition is a shift to lower carbon technologies and resources, while ensuring that society, jobs and livelihoods will not be harmed. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The lack of clear direction coming from the government to ensure a just energy transition is a matter that all political parties should be able to address.

As we go into into next week’s elections, which many as the most significant since 1994, the civil society organisations Project 90 by 2030, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office, African Climate Alliance, The Green Connection, 350 Africa and Alternative Information and Development Centre note that climate change and environmental issues are coupled with increasing poverty. 

This is why, earlier this month, on 8 May 2024, these NGOs invited political parties to engage in a debate. Only the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Rise Mzansi availed themselves for the event, where lively discussion provided insight into the parties’ perspectives and plans for energy, eco-justice and climate change issues. 

The ANC was among the parties invited but did not attend.

It was also an opportunity to better understand how these politicians view the climate crisis and the degradation of the environment, in relation to the many issues citizens face. 

Sarah Robyn Farrell of the African Climate Alliance said at the event: “There is a growing urgency to address our collective climate and energy crises for the sake of human rights, economic stability and environmental preservation for future generations. 

“This can, and should, be used as an opportunity by the government to centre the most impacted people in our country. That means incorporating a socio-environmental lens across decision-making and planning. It means prioritising sustainable socio-environmental solutions to energy poverty and lack of housing, food and water, as well as addressing unemployment and inequality through green jobs and economic reforms.”

An important part of the debate was when political parties got a chance to hear directly from communities about the environmental issues they face, such as lack of access to clean water and the impact of load-shedding on livelihoods. 

Communities highlighted that their living conditions are inhumane and that they — poor and working-class people — are the ones who bear the brunt of climate change. When there is flooding, for example, it is often the people who live in shacks who are affected first and most negatively. People emphasised that these are obstacles that affect their ability to live full, happy lives and as meaningful contributors to this democracy.

Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute’s Maia Nangle said, “As a faith-based environmental justice organisation, we have seen how the climate, energy and economic crises are impacting the livelihoods of people in South Africa daily. 

“This is why we call on all those who seek to represent us to be committed to real change by putting people over profit, ensuring a meaningful just energy transition to a renewable energy future and implementing policy frameworks that overcome existing barriers and allow collaboration between all sectors of society. 

“But, most importantly, this process must be inclusive and for this we need transparency and information-sharing, in addition to equitable opportunities for meaningful engagement.”

Parties reiterated their manifestos, without incorporating climate or energy messaging, which is a clear indication that they did not spare any thought for the issues at the crux of the debate. It is worrying that these issues are not top of mind for those hoping to lead South Africa into the future.

The EFF said that, before they could focus on climate change, they intended to prioritise industrialisation and job creation. The party planned to move to renewables at its own pace. It merely acknowledged the issues of energy poverty and climate change.

It said South Africa required a reliable energy system to industrialise, particularly for heavy industry, but the creation of jobs did not necessarily have to be related to energy intensive sectors. The party said it planned to create jobs in the delivery of basic services to those who have been previously denied access to them.

At the debate, Gabriel Klaasen from Project 90 by 2030 said, “With 2024 marking 30 years of democracy in South Africa, it is essential that we further our call for justice, especially with it also being an election year. We need proper and effective leadership — with environmental, economic and social justice at the forefront. We have an opportunity to define our future with people’s power at the centre.”

The DA said it recognised the need for both mitigation efforts and adaptation measures to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas contributions and to support South Africans through a changing climate. This included providing alternative employment opportunities to support those affected by the transition to renewable energies in finding meaningful work.

The DA planned to unbundle Eskom and have the private sector play more of a role in South Africa’s energy landscape. The party said they planned to increase support for large-scale solar rollout to private homes with their own energy generation that can be fed back into the grid, significantly reducing the burden on the grid and providing the opportunity to generate revenue.

The Green Connection’s advocacy officer Lisa Makaula said, “As we gear up towards elections, we have seen how disadvantaged communities continue to struggle due to energy poverty while they are also facing the effects of climate change. 

“We hope to see these issues being prioritised and addressed by our government for every citizen to have access to affordable, clean energy. 

“This must be done as a matter of urgency and it must include meaningful engagement with citizens, especially those who may be most affected. But how can our people be fully involved in our democracy when all attention is focused on basic survival? 

“Political parties must realise that the just transition is the country’s chance to start to fix many of our problems, mostly because it encourages civil inclusion and action and calls for the fair distribution of resources.”

Rise Mzansi said it believed that making climate change mitigation a priority brings with it opportunities for South Africans. The party supported the decentralisation of the energy industry and a transition away from coal-dependency, which would be to the benefit of communities most affected by the coal industry. 

It was guided by intersectionality, which sees climate justice and social justice as interconnected. The party supported a diversified energy plan and aimed to build a sovereign system that is affordable and which benefits the people by including climate justice in its internal workings.

Moving away from coal and embracing climate justice is a commendable step, however, Rise Mzansi’s message gets lost in translation when they mention their desired energy mix for South Africa, which includes more nuclear power and gas. 

It said it supported a diversified energy plan consisting of renewables, green hydrogen, small nuclear reactors and gas. They planned for solar to be used in every building and to support local capacity to be able to develop this initiative.

350 Africa said at the debate, “South Africa’s energy future hangs in the balance. We need bold policies to transform our energy sector as well as prevent the worst impacts of climate change. It’s time for a radical shift. We need massive state investment in clean energy, climate jobs and green industrialisation that delivers economic opportunities for all.

“And we need answers from political parties on how they will build a ‘green new Eskom’ to drive the genuine social ownership of our energy future. We want to know exactly how they plan to ensure a just transition to renewable energy that lifts millions out of poverty and seriously tackles inequality. We want to know how political parties will respond. The urgency of the crisis means we need concrete solutions, not just empty promises.”

According to the organisations, what is evident is that political parties are not seeing the just transition for the opportunity that it is to lift millions out of poverty and tackle inequality, as well as secure our energy future, while mitigating the many climate change impacts affecting primarily the working-class and poor majority. They urge voting South Africans to consider this when heading to the polls next week. 

Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)

Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO)

Issued on behalf of SAFCEI (South African Faith Communities’ Environmental Institute). For media queries contact [email protected] /0829369199