Leave Pangolins the heck alone

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Llewellyn van Wyk, B.Arch; MSc. (Applied), Urban Analyst

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, 1970[1]

An additional pleasure to watching a good movie with my son is the thoughtful and usually, animated discussion that follows on the drive home. That did not happen with Blade Runner 2049. That late-night drive home was unusually quiet, and I could not tell whether the silence was caused by the bittersweet narrative or the dark imagery.

Thinking about I realised that it was neither: the silence was caused by the realisation that those images were not sci-fi – I had seen them before, many times, in actual cities. Dark, colourless urban streetscapes; the night sky dominated by bright neon signs; advertising boards selling their wares through the sexualisation of women; mountainous waste disposal sites; thick orange skies saturated with pollutants; the displacement of nature – these are all familiar urban images.

During the film, I became more and more desperate for a sign – any sign – that some semblance of nature still survived somewhere. At one point in the movie, there is a flash of the yellow and green of a dying flower against a ghostly-grey tree only kept standing with the help of stabilising cables. Then, suddenly, at the midpoint of the film, there is this green explosion on the screen, and you find yourself in the middle of a forest. My relief that there was still some nature left was enormous. But it is short-lived: the forest is no more than a recreation of a memory.

Tom van der Linden, in a commentary about the film titled ‘In search of the distinctly human: the philosophy of Blade Runner 2049’, observes that, in the movie, “ecosystems have collapsed. Green fields turned to dirt, metal, and plastic. Trees are but a distant memory. A long time ago man lost his spiritual connection to nature, replaced it with a physical one. And now, finally, she has been conquered. Reduced to her basic elements, the last artifacts of her existence.”[i] In this ‘ecology without nature’, as he puts it, we are placing ever more distance between ourselves and the rest of nature.

With the current emergence of the coronavirus, there is an increased focus on how the destruction or conquering of nature creates conditions for new zoonotic illnesses to spread.

As Kate Jones, Chair of Ecology at University College London, has noted, pandemics are now “a hidden cost of human economic development…We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”[ii]

The state of the environment, disease, and viruses

Many natural scientists are emphasising the correlation between ecological degradation and disease outbreaks. The UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, pleads that “nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis.”[iii] Essentially humanity is placing too many pressures on the natural environment with damaging consequences. Other scientists too suggest that the Covid-19 outbreak is a “clear warning shot”, given that far more deadly diseases exist in wildlife, and that today’s civilisation was “playing with fire”.[iv] They note it is almost always human behaviour that causes diseases to spill over into humans. As Quammen argues, “Our relationship with the rest of the natural world, which is consumptive, and intrusive, and disruptive, is at the heart of the matter. Those things shake loose viruses from their natural hosts. All these wild animals carry their own unique viruses. When we go into a tropical forest with its great diversity, and we start cutting down trees and capturing animals or killing animals for food, then we offer those viruses the opportunity to become our viruses, to jump into us and find a new host, a much more abundant host. And when a virus moves from an infected animal into a human, it’s won the sweepstakes. It can now spread around the world and become one of the world’s most successful viruses, which this coronavirus now is.”[v]

Covid-19 and climate breakdown are interconnected crises. They are the unintended consequences of a tradition of colonial expansion, conquest, and resource extraction on the back of fossil fuel-driven industrial growth.

The continued depletion of natural resources has, in turn, put pressure on the world’s most fragile ecosystems, and we now experiencing an extreme biodiversity crisis in which over a million species of plants, insects, and other animals are on the brink of extinction, while other species, stressed by displacement, are increasingly brought into contact with expanding areas of human habitation and agriculture. This encroachment on wilderness space has increased human exposure to the movement of pathogens from animal hosts, previously contained within wild ecosystems.

“Preserving intact ecosystems and biodiversity will help us reduce the prevalence of some of these diseases. So the way we farm, the way we use the soils, the way we protect coastal ecosystems, and the way we treat our forests will either wreck the future or help us live longer[vi],” Andersen argues. “We know in the late 1990s in Malaysia with the outbreak of Nipah virus, it is believed that the virus was a result of forest fires, deforestation, and drought which had caused fruit bats, the natural carriers of the virus, to move from the forests into the peat farms. It infected the farmers, which infected other humans, and that led to the spread of disease.” Biodiversity loss is a significant driver in the emergence of some of these viruses. Large-scale deforestation, habitat degradation, and fragmentation, agriculture intensification, our food system, trade in species and plants, anthropogenic climate change – all these are drivers of biodiversity loss and drivers of new diseases” he concludes.

A study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, agrees that the underlying cause of the present pandemic is likely to be increased human contact with wildlife. Scientists from Australia and the US traced which animals were most likely to share pathogens with humans taking 142 viruses known to have been transmitted from animals to humans over many years and matching them to the IUCN’s red list of threatened species.

They found that domesticated animals like cattle, sheep, dogs, and goats shared the highest number of viruses with humans, with eight times more animal-borne viruses than wild mammal species. Wild animals that have adapted well to human-dominated environments also share more viruses with people. Rodents, bats, and primates – which often live among people, and close to houses and farms – together were implicated as hosts for nearly 75% of all viruses[vii]. However, the spillover risk was highest from threatened and endangered wild animals whose populations had declined largely due to hunting, wildlife trade, and loss of habitat.

Its noteworthy that every pandemic-threatening new virus that we have seen emerge in recent decades — avian flu, SARS, MERS, Zika and Ebola — has developed in this way. The opportunities currently existing for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people is unprecedented.[viii] The continued erosion of ecosystems is forcing an uncomfortably proximity to animals and plants that harbour diseases that can jump to humans.

The state of the environment and food supply

Not only are we dependent on nature for our health, we also overlook the contribution of nature and its ecosystem services in our food production systems. Our current rate of biodiversity loss is having a substantial impact on what we eat and how we feed the world’s populations. And this impact is set to increase. As reported by the World Economic Forum, research undertaken by them together with PWC, $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, and therefore exposed to risks from nature loss. Agriculture and the food and beverage industries are the second- and third-largest sectors most dependent on nature, after the construction industry.

Climate change, soil erosion, pollinators extinction, and deforestation are all threatening food supplies. The decline of insects and other animals that pollinate crops is also impacting on agriculture production. More than three-quarters of the world’s food crops rely at least partially on pollination. In other words, global crop production with an annual market value of between $235 billion and $577 billion is at risk. Outbreaks of invasive pests and diseases are another common cause of nature loss that threatens the survival of commercially important crop species with low genetic diversity. More than half of the world’s food comes from just three staples – rice, wheat, and maize – which already suffer annual losses of up to 16% of total production (valued at $96 billion) due to invasive species.[ix]


One of the social constructs that needs reviewing is the notion that nature is in balance and will ultimately resolve all the above problems without human intervention.

However, scientists have long abandoned the idea of there being a “balance of nature,” and favour more dynamic ecological frameworks. Both the delicate and stalwart interpretations of “balance” imply that nature should be left to its own devices; that human interference ought to be minimal. But as Matt Palmer an ecologist at Columbia University notes, the updated view is that “change is constant.”[x] The importance of this paradigm is that as the new approach takes hold, conservation and management policies must also be adapted. “In some ways, it argues for a stronger hand in managing ecosystems or natural resources,” Palmer states. “It’s going to take human intervention.”

To prevent further outbreaks both global warming and the destruction of the natural world must end, as both drive wildlife into contact with people. Covid-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.

[1]Big Yellow Taxi” is a song written, composed, and recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell in 1970, and originally released on her album Ladies of the Canyon.

[i]Van der Linder, T. 2018. “In search of the distinctly human: the philosophy of Blade Runner 2029.” YouTube channel www.patreon.com/likestoriesofold Downloaded: 21 April 2020.

[ii] Hill, K., 2020. “Biodiversity and pandemic disease (or how we came to know our world in 2020).” Available from: https://dirt.asla.org/2020/04/23/biodiversity-and-pandemic-diseases-or-how-we-came-to-know-our-world-in-2020/. Downloaded: Thursday, 07 May 2020

[iii]Carrington, D. 2020. “Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’ says UN environment chief”. Available from: https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/coronavirus-nature-is-sending-us-a-message-says-un-environment-chief. Downloaded: Thursday, 02 April 2020

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Cohn, R. 2020. “Spillover warning: How we can prevent the next pandemic.” Available from: https://e360.yale.edu/features/spillover-warning-how-we-can-prevent-the-next-pandemic-david-quammen. Downloaded: Friday, 10 April 2020

[vi]Greenfield, P. 2020. “Ban wildlife markets to avert pandemics, says UN Biodiversity chief.” Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/06/ban-live-animal-markets-pandemics-un-biodiversity-chief-age-of-extinction?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNDA4&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight. Downloaded: Thursday, 09 April 2020

[vii] Vidal, J. 2020. “Human impact on wildlife to blame for spread of viruses, says study.” Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/08/human-impact-on-wildlife-to-blame-for-spread-of-viruses-says-study-aoe?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNDA4&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight. Downloaded: Thursday, 09 April 2020

[viii] Carrington, D. 2020. “Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’ says UN environment chief.” Available from: https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/25/coronavirus-nature-is-sending-us-a-message-says-un-environment-chief. Downloaded: Thursday, 02 April 2020.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Root, T. 2020. “The ‘balance of nature’ is an enduring concept. But it’s wrong.” Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/balance-of-nature-explained/. Downloaded: Thursday, 09 April 2020

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Keynote address | Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries |Waste

Programme director

SALGA representatives

Officials from National, Provincial Departments and Local government

Waste Management Officers

Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to deliver this keynote address at this Waste Khoro 2020 event hosted as a virtual conference. This event was originally planned to be hosted in North-West Province, and I suppose following our President’s announcements last night, it will not be too long before we can once again work together face to face.

As we all know, we meet today during a challenging and difficult time. As a result of the pandemic there has been minimal economic activity, jobs have been lost, industries and businesses have downsized or closed. Across the world governments are working on economic recovery strategies.

For many countries, placing their economies on a more sustainable growth path is central. Our country understands green industries can open new possibilities for development and create much-needed jobs. The waste management sector has strong potential to innovate and improve socio-economic conditions and contribute to sustainable development and resource use.

Regionally, South Africa is a founding member of the African Circular Economy Alliance which started when UNEP, South Africa, Rwanda and Nigeria agreed to take the outcomes of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) forward in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

This innovative programme was launched in Germany in 2017, at UNFCCC COP 23. The Alliance is open to all African Countries and we have joined hands with other states to facilitate, promote and support the transition towards a circular economy on our continent. The recent AMCEN Bureau have instructed the Alliance to ramp up the implementation of Circular economy in Africa.

We also participate in the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), of which I am the current President. The AMCEN Bureau together with the African Union proposed an “African Green Stimulus Programme” that will contribute meaningfully towards the broader African Post-Covid-19 Response Programme. Improving waste management by means of adopting principles of a circular economy is one of the focus areas.

Here at home, we have aligned policy and strategy with the circular economy concept. I am pleased to share with you today, that last week, Cabinet approved the National Waste Management Strategy 2020.

The National Waste Management Strategy 2020 is aimed at promoting the waste hierarchy and circular economy principles, while achieving both socio-economic benefits and the reduction of negative environmental impacts. Key to this are the three Pillars of the National Waste Management Strategy which are: promoting waste minimisation, efficient and effective waste services and awareness raising, compliance monitoring and enforcement.

The 2019 Khoro reflected on the progress made during the first decade of the Waste Act implementation and agreed on resolutions. The National Waste Management Strategy 2020 builds on the successes and lessons from the implementation of that 2011 strategy.

The NWMS provides government policy and strategic interventions for the waste sector and is aligned and responsive to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Agenda 2030 adopted by all United Nations (UN) member States. It is also aligned and consistent with South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP): Vision 2030 which is our country’s specific response to, and integration of the SDGs into our overall socio-economic development plans.

Significant strategic shifts from the 2011 strategy made in the NWMS 2020 include:

·        Addressing the role waste pickers and the informal sector in the circular economy;

·        Promoting approaches to the design of products and packaging that reduce waste or encourage reuse, repair and preparation for recycling, support markets for source separated recyclables;

·        Investigating potential regulatory or economic interventions to increase participation rates in residential separation at source programmes;

·        Investing in the economies associated with transporting of recyclables to waste processing facilities;

·        Addressing the skills gap within the sector; and

·        Engagement with the National Treasury regarding the operational expenditures for municipalities associated with implementing the NWMS and Waste Act.

With regards to compliance promotion at local government level, we have seen that implementation of the NWMS 2011 showed a lack of monitoring and evaluation of municipal waste management. This needs to be addressed with a collective effort to bring the necessary change, and we must call out poor performance and non-compliance, and ensure that corrective action is taken where needed.

We have seen sterling collaboration between DEFF, National Treasury and COGTA on the change of MIG policy to fund the yellow fleet.

But more needs to be done to support municipalities to comply with landfill infrastructure standards, improve the number of households that have weekly waste collection ; and actively promote waste diversion from landfilling. 

In this regard all of you gathered here today have an important role to play. We need to set attainable targets, we need to enhance training, we need to battle noncompliance, and consequences for noncompliance and we need to work across all levels of government to support resource mobilisation and actively build partnerships with the private sector.

Central to the promoting private sector collaboration is the concept of extended producer responsibility. This year our Department embarked on an extensive consultation process to initiate extended producer responsibility schemes with the private sector for the following products:

·        –     Paper and Packaging;

·        –     Electrical and Electronic Equipment; and

·        –     Lighting.

This gives effect to Section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act, 2008 and also supports the approach to the management of waste enshrined in the 2020 National Waste Management Strategy. 

The introduction of recyclate content targets for specific products is an important mechanism to stimulate the demand for waste resources.

In this regard, the Department has also taken strides by ensuring product design changes that embrace circularity for the manufacturing of plastic carrier bags. We have received extensive comments on the amendments of the plastic carrier bags Regulations, and I am pleased that we are moving in the right direction to prevent and manage plastic pollution.

Other initiatives that we hope will promote the circular economy include the exclusion regulations that recognise material that can be used for beneficiation purposes without requiring a waste licence. Our Department has approved 48 applications for the beneficial use of several waste materials, thus unblocking obstacles and promoting the full implementation of the waste management hierarchy.

Central to the success of the circular economy concept is demand stimulation. Government has considerable spending power and we must take the lead in advancing green and sustainable procurement.  We are already in discussion with our sister departments on utilising alternative building materials consisting of repurposed ash, construction and demolition waste and well as organic waste. New building standards in this regard can improve circularity.

The Chemicals and Waste Economy Phakisa identified several waste initiatives and priorities.  This led to the development of detailed action plans and business cases for 20 initiatives. 

In implementing some of the initiatives from the Chemicals and Waste Phakisa relating to the Exclusion Regulations, the Department has now approved 48 applications for the beneficial use of several waste materials thus unblocking obstacles and promoting the full implementation of the waste management hierarchy.

Fellow delegates, the Waste Act makes provision for the designation of Waste Management Officers (WMOs) at all levels of government for the purpose of coordinating matters pertaining to waste management in South Africa. 

Currently we have municipal, provincial and national Waste Management Officers designated.  This event is one of the established mechanisms to coordinate the efforts of WMOs and is a platform for all WMOs, waste management practitioners and other related officials from the three spheres of government to share experiences and discuss challenges, possible solutions and opportunities with a goal of improving waste management in the country.

The policy objectives of our government are clear. It is now up to you to join forces across all levels of government to make their implementation a reality.  I wish you well in your deliberations and know that you will have fruitful discussions.

I thank you.

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VIDEO | Greta Thunberg

The disarming case to act right now on climate change


In this passionate call to action, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg explains why, in August 2018, she walked out of school and organized a strike to raise awareness of global warming, protesting outside the Swedish parliament and grabbing the world’s attention. “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions,” Thunberg says. “All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxStockholm, an independent event. 

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Jane Fonda: Why women are at the forefront of climate change


Franziska Barczyk

For thousands of years, a patriarchal paradigm has ruled. It’s the paradigm that has led to the climate crisis, an extractive, the use-up-and-discard mentality that treats workers, those who are different, women and the natural world as commodities, at men’s disposal, for their enjoyment and their profit. Around the world, in countries such as Hungary, Brazil, India, the UK, Turkey, the Philippines, Russia and the US, we can see the apotheosis of this toxic mindset in the nationalistic tyrants, strongmen and would-be dictators.

Under the millennial-old patriarchal rule, the feminine principle has been not destroyed but suppressed. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, writes that this has “enabled the ego to gain absolute supremacy in the collective human psyche.”

He adds that it is harder for the ego to take root in the female than in the male because women are “more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate,” have “greater openness and sensitivity toward other lifeforms,” and are “more attuned to the natural world.”

Men fear that becoming “we” will erase the “I,” the sense of self. For most women …  our “we” has been our superpower.

I like to believe that this is true, but I know for sure that women have been socialized to be caregivers, more attentive to others. Perhaps this has something to do with why women tend to be less susceptible to the disease of individualism, are more conscious of our physical and spiritual links to the natural world, of our interdependence, of the importance of the well-being of the community at large, not just our small personal circle.

Men fear that becoming “we” will erase the “I,” the sense of self. For most women, our “I” has always been a little porous, whereas our “we” has been our superpower.

I think some of this goes back to our hunter-gatherer past. Men went out to try to spear animals and bring back meat. Anthropologists have written that on the occasion the hunter did bring back meat, which was often not the case, he would give it to his family or use it to curry favor with tribal leaders. It was the reliable food — tubers, nuts and berries — gathered by women, young and old, that made up the family’s daily nutrients.

And if a woman’s own family didn’t need the food, she would distribute it to other tribal members. And if the younger women were pregnant or nursing, older women did the foraging. Grandmothers would also help with birthing, care for newborns, and were indispensable in advising the younger women about where the best water was, the juiciest berries, the poisonous insects.

Survival meant respecting the interconnectedness between women. They truly depended on each other, and I believe that is baked into our DNA.

This is of utmost importance now because the climate crisis we face is a collective crisis that requires collective, not individual, solutions. And the challenge is that for the last 40 years the idea of the collective, the public sphere, the commons, has been deliberately eroded and individualism has risen to take its place.

But individually we are powerless to make the needed systemic change.

That’s why individualism works to the advantage of the relatively few who wield power, and that’s why we need to set aside our differences, unify around our common needs, because together is how we gain power.

According to Anthony Leiserowitz, a senior research scientist at Yale who studies public perceptions of climate change, the three countries where people are the least aware of the climate crisis are the US, Canada, and the UK. Why? Because, Leiserowitz says, those are the countries where individualism has taken root the most, especially in the last thirty years, fanned by conservative news outlets.

“Women are not better people than men. We just don’t have our masculinity to prove,” says Gloria Steinem.

But even in those countries, as everywhere on the planet, it’s women’s sense of our interdependence that helps explain why we are the ones who save not just our own families but also our communities during extreme weather events and what allows women to rise in greater numbers to face this collective climate emergency.

As Gloria Steinem says, “Women are not better people than men. We just don’t have our masculinity to prove.”

These are some of the reasons that women are at the forefront of climate solutions. But in many ways, they also bear the brunt of climate change. In developing countries, it’s women who are responsible for producing 40 percent to 80 percent of food. They plant the crops, harvest them, fetch the water and chop the wood, the things that allow their families to survive. And because of climate change, when crops are failing and water is scarce, women sometimes have to walk for days and still may not find these lifesaving resources. Climate change makes their job much harder.

Women also make up 80 percent of climate refugees — people who are displaced because of extreme weather events — and they are among the last to be rescued from those crises. Studies have shown that women are 14 times more likely to die in a climate-related disaster than men.

What’s more, women carry more body fat than men do. It is in that fat that a disproportionate “body burden” of fossil-fuel-based pollutants, pesticides and chemicals is sequestered that can cause health issues such as cancers and can be spread to children in utero or through breast milk.

Here’s something that you may not know that I learned that week as I studied women and climate change for our Fire Drill Friday. Reports show that there are significant increases in rape, sexual assault and domestic violence in places experiencing climate- related disasters like floods and earthquakes or environmental destruction like mining, fracking, or drilling. When oil pipelines and fracking sites are under construction, it brings an influx of thousands of men into rural areas and on indigenous reservations where they are housed in “man camps.”

In the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, there’s been a surge in sexual violence against Indigenous women. North Dakota has at least 125 cases of missing native women, although the numbers are likely higher because records are not officially kept. Patina Park, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, said, “We can’t be surprised that people who would rape our land are also raping our people.

We are never going to solve climate change — or a whole host of related challenges — without women in leadership positions. The more we have women leading the climate movement, the stronger our movement will be. Countries where women lead embrace international climate treaties more often than those led by men. Paul Hawken’s “Drawdown” study, which examined the top ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, found that educating girls and empowering women was one of the most effective climate solutions.

So, for those who identify as a woman, start by finding a community that can support (and hopefully join) you as you develop your climate activism, especially if you find yourself pigeonholed into more traditional roles.

Those who do not identify as a woman, take steps to support the women-identified people in your lives. Take on your fair share of the housework and child rearing at home and logistical and administrative work in the office, freeing women to lead. If you are part of a climate campaign or organization, make sure you’re not unconsciously limiting the participation of women. If there’s not a good gender balance, find out what you can do to make this work more welcoming for women. If you want to advance equal pay and equal rights, the American Association of University Women is a good place to start.

The vast majority of the world’s farmers are women, and women farmers have proven to be better environmental stewards of the land.

Whether women have a choice about having and raising children is critical for climate justice. Educating and empowering women lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies and more opportunities for women. The climate crisis disproportionately harms poor women and women of color, who are also the most burdened with child rearing and other forms of care work. Learn more about reproductive justice and gender justice by joining organizations like SisterSongForward TogetherNational Domestic Workers Alliance and One Billion Rising.

The vast majority of the world’s farmers are women, and women farmers have proven to be better environmental stewards of the land. We have seen this in the Chipko, or “tree hugger,” movement started by Indian women farmers in the 1970s and the green belt movement that planted thousands of trees in Kenya, founded by Wangari Maathai, the environmental activist and mother of three who won the Nobel Peace Prize for this work in 2004.

Organizations like Food First and La Via Campesina work to protect women’s rights to their land, including economic and civil rights, and safeguard them from sexual assault and violence. Educate yourself about the ongoing crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women, a disproportionate number of whom have disappeared near fossil-fuel extraction and fracking sites across North America. Raise awareness of this tragedy by supporting organizations like the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Support young women-led organizations like Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate, Future Coalition and Fridays for Future. Funnel resources into grassroots, women-led groups that focus on climate and gender equity and offer to get involved. Some of my favorites are Women’s Earth AllianceWomen’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International, African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction (WoMin), and Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO).

Winona LaDuke’s Hemp & Heritage Farm is another Indigenous-women-led organization to support. This longtime environmental activist, who joined Fire Drill Fridays in DC, is resisting fossil fuel pipelines and also growing hemp for renewable energy. Check out her innovative work.

Elect more women to public office and other leadership positions, and make sure women are at the table when climate crisis solutions and environmental justice are being discussed, such as the Green New Deal. (There’s even a Feminist Agenda for a Green Deal, developed by women leaders around the world.) Be sure the women you’re electing are committed to climate, social and environmental justice. The British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is one of the worst for the environment and women’s, workers’ and immigrants’ rights. Do your homework, and make sure women leaders know you’re counting on them to do right by their gender, as well as the whole planet.

You can also encourage women to vote. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has documented that women are more concerned about climate and more supportive of government action than men. So let’s get women to the polls and vote for climate leaders. And let’s work to make sure there are climate-committed women running for election up and down every ticket around the world. Groups like EMILY’s List have helped make this happen when it comes to reproductive choice; organizations like the Women’s March are focusing on climate and reproductive justice in 2020. Join in solidarity with your sisters around the globe.

Excerpted from the new book by What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action by Jane Fonda. Reprinted with permission from Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. © 2020 Jane Fonda.

Watch Jane Fonda’s Why I protest for climate justice:

At age 81, actor and activist Jane Fonda is putting herself on the line for the planet — literally. In a video interview with TEDWomen curator Pat Mitchell, Fonda speaks about getting arrested multiple times during Fire Drill Fridays, the weekly climate demonstrations she leads in Washington, DC — and discusses why civil disobedience is becoming a new normal in the age of climate change.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference.

In October 2019, Jane Fonda launched “Fire Drill Fridays,” weekly protests centered on climate change and calling for an end to new fossil fuels, a just transition to a renewable economy, and demands that Congress pass the Green New Deal. The protests began in Washington DC, and in February 2020, Fonda joined forces with Greenpeace and other allies and the movement shifted to California and to communities across the country.

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Green light at the end of the renewable tunnel

While the country continues to struggle with the crippling effects of prolonged load shedding, recent indicators point to a light at the end of the tunnel that is lit by renewable energy. 

Within a short week, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) opened the way to procure new renewable power; Eskom launched a daily power generation data platform that clearly demonstrates transparency; and Eskom’s CEO has been reported to say that new energy generation sources will need to be clean and green.

“We are hopeful that together these indicators mean that policy and procurement can work hand in hand to enable a green power revolution that will support the economic growth that is so desperately needed in South Africa.”

Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA)

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, reported last week that NERSA has provided its concurrence to a Section 34 Ministerial Determination, issued earlier this year, which opened the way for the procurement of 6 800MW of wind and solar PV power.

SAWEA portends that the country’s continued power crisis is a problem that will keep recurring unless the country executes decisive policy initiatives and implements the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), this development is the next step to making this happen.

“It is clear from the 2019 IRP that the new generation capacity should come from low-cost and reliable renewable energy sources, such as wind and other clean power technologies, especially as renewables can be rolled out within a period of 18 to 24 months, so it is the most feasible option to close the short term capacity gap and give the country a chance to catch its breath,” explained Ntuli.

It seems that Eskom’s CEO, Andre De Ruyter, agrees with this sentiment.  He is reported, in a number of media, acknowledging the global shift to renewable energy and that renewable power is cost competitive power, whilst delivering on reduced emissions and jobs.  To this end, the utility has established a Just Energy Transition office, to engage workers and communities, the article stated.

He is also quoted acknowledging the environmental benefits of clean power and that the national utility cannot continue to violate regulations. 

“Climate change and the decreasing cost of renewable energy have proven the case for the shift to renewable energy.”

Eskom’s CEO, Andre De Ruyter

Another win for the renewable sector is the recent issuing of draft regulations by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, which paves the way for municipalities to be able to procure their own power from Independent Power Producers. Once that regulation is approved it will open a new market segment for renewable energy procurement.

“We have also seen an increased interest from the private sector, particularly the members of the energy-intensive users group, to procure power directly from Independent Power Producers,” confirmed Ntuli, who says that the industry is ready and eager to help close the energy supply gaps created by Eskom’s reduced Energy Availability Factor and the decommissioning plan tabled in the 2019 IRP.


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Abnormal circumstances require urgent response

SAPVIA applauds the determination put forward by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe to mobilise the private sector to address the threats to energy security but cautions that there is no more time to waste.

Responding to the Budget Vote Speech of the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) said that the private sector stands ready and able to act with pace to meet the rise in demand with a secure, sustainable energy supply. The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association is a not-for-profit body which consists of active players in South Africa’s photovoltaic market.

“Stakeholders from across the renewables sector, and specifically solar PV, need only to be given the green light on bid window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), and they will invest and drive the infrastructure development we so desperately need,” said Niveshen Govender, COO SAPVIA.

“Stakeholders from across the renewables sector, and specifically solar PV, need only to be given the green light on bid window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), and they will invest and drive the infrastructure development we so desperately need,” said Niveshen Govender, COO SAPVIA.

“Solar PV represents the least costly and fastest to commercial operation of all energy sources and will address the Minister’s concerns that there is ‘insufficient time to bring in grid-scale generation options due to long lead times.”

Utility Scale Solar PV projects (eg. 75MW) take between 18-24 months from signing the PPA to commercial operation date (COD). This could even be achieved in 12 months given an enabling environment. On the other hand, SSEG projects (eg. 10MW) take 12 months on average and could be reduced to 6-8 months given an enabling environment.

“The urgency with which the Minister is treating the situation is welcomed, but this needs to be measured in actions rather than words,” added Govender.

“SAPVIA welcomes the proposed amendments to New Generation Capacity Regulations and would urge that the clarification for requirements from municipalities when they apply for Section 34 Determinations from the Department come sooner rather than later.”

“As a priority, the Minister must increase the current exemption from licencing from 1MW to 10MW for energy generation installations. We believe this is an arbitrary limit set as a policy decision and has no technical basis, and by raising it private sector operators will be able to step into the gap and deliver much-needed supply quickly and with minimal upgrades to a large number of substations, or nodes on the distribution network.”

SAPVIA was at the forefront of calling for the IPP projects signed under bid window 4 to resume construction and we are pleased to have worked closely with the government to ensure that these projects can continue safely towards the commercial operation.

“There really is no time to waste if we are to address the threats to energy security and while SAPVIA understands the Minister’s calls for a coordinated and integrated approach to energy planning and coherent policymaking, we firmly believe that we have already laid the foundations with IRP 2019.”

“There is no need to go back to the drawing board, we must simply allow players in the renewables sector to implement new generation capacity and get bid window 5 of the REIPPPP underway,” ends Govender.

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Experts discuss how to make wind power more mainstream

Experts across the globe have come together to address facing the wind power industry. The Internation Energy Agency Wind Technology Collaboration Programme (IEA Wind) brought together a team of experts that was led by researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The team has been studying how wind energy can benefit energy systems under the IEA Wind Task 41, “Enabling Wind to Contribute to a Distributed Energy Future.” The NREL Deployment Manager and technical director and co-lead of the IEA Wind project, Ian Baring-Gould, explained that roof-mounted solar panels have become more common in the United States and have hopes that wind power systems will reach the same level of affordability.

“Our hope is this IEA Wind research will lead to a similar level of affordability and flexibility for smaller-scale, localized wind installations. We want to increase the reach of this clean energy technology,”

Baring-Gould said.

New Models for Wind Installations

New innovations have led to a drastic decrease in installation and operating costs for utility-scale wind power plants. However, there has not been a similar decrease in the costs of smaller-scale distributed wind systems. This limits wind power’s role in the distributing energy market. Also at the same time communities and nations have looked at the distributed energy generation as a way to meet the energy needs of future generations. 

The experts have been examining a variety of solutions that have involved wind turbines in distributed applications in behind-the-meter, in-front-of-the-meter, microgrid, and off-grid applications, and in combination with other distributed energy and energy storage technologies. The sizes of the turbines that have been considered range from small wind turbines to multi-megawatt, large-scale turbines that can be deployed in small numbers. 

The NREL has conducted work on the forthcoming balance-of-station for distributed wind applications. Baring-Gould explained that this model has allowed for a structured comparison of the cost of the energy impact of different foundation and installation strategies and solutions. 

He added that while the efforts have focused on megawatt-scale distributed applications, future efforts will include distributed applications as small as 20 kilowatts.

“We’re already gaining a better understanding of the technical requirements and marketplace realities. We’re optimistic that this will lead not just to cost savings opportunities, but also to an entirely new model for wind installations,”

Baring-Gould said.

An International Effort

This four-year effort has brought together research organisations from 11 countries to broaden the distributed generation possibilities for global wind power. Along with the United States, the IEA Wind Project has included representatives from Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Korea and Spain. 

In the future, a detailed international research plan will be developed to create a research case to update international standards. A catalogue will also be developed in order to make information concerning distributed wind operational data easily available for future international efforts. 

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What the current global challenges are teaching us about energy development

Dr. Fatih Birol (IEA) shares insights on our newly disrupted world

The current coronavirus pandemic, and its global and ubiquitous disruption, is delivering daily challenges to our way of life. Yet for all the restrictions and concerns it is imposing on us in just a matter of weeks, from its origins in Wuhan, China to the recent cancellation of the world’s largest sporting event – the Olympics – it is also providing unprecedented insights into our reliance on energy, how we generate and distribute it, and the opportunities for energy evolution and transition.

Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) which advocates policies that enhance the reliability, affordability and sustainability of energy, recently spoke about the way in which the current global health crisis is bringing our reliance on increasing electrification into sharp focus. He estimates that electricity demand has dropped as much as 15% in many economies in recent weeks due to the rapid slow-down of industrial activity. This has presented unexpected opportunities to diversify the energy mix for many countries as renewable sources such as wind and solar are able to add to capacity.
“In this way, the recent drop in electricity demand fast-forwarded some power systems 10 years into the future, suddenly giving them levels of wind and solar power that they wouldn’t have had otherwise without another decade of investment in renewables. This is an important moment for our understanding of cleaner electricity systems, including some of the operational challenges that policymakers and regulators need to address to ensure electricity security.”

However, the critical challenge of balancing supply and demand on networks in real-time remains. Having that flexibility means ensuring diverse supply to create energy security for all countries. In many developing and emerging economies, cheap coal for power generation is still the default fuel of choice. But as a global society is increasingly concerned about reducing emissions and making progress in the energy transition, natural gas is increasingly finding a larger role in the energy matrix. Dr Birol explains,“Most electricity systems rely on natural gas power plants – which can quickly ramp generation up or down at short notice – to provide flexibility, underlining the critical role of gas in clean energy transitions.”

Given new discoveries in Africa, such as Total’s Brulppada project-based offshore South Africa, as well as Mozambique’s exciting LNG development, the continent is well placed to build a market to help create the requisite flexibility sought by many countries grappling with the most effective strategy to lower emissions whilst feeding economic growth.

Another valuable asset that Africa possesses is its abundance of human potential, especially given the young demographic of many emerging economies. The future of Africa’s energy growth relies as much on its development of skilled personnel as its in-situ natural resources. The digital revolution will help to give access to the opportunity to the next generation, as Dr. Birol highlights:

“Despite the increasing use of digital technologies in electricity systems, the coronavirus crisis has also reminded us of the essential role of skilled personnel. Network maintenance and repair is labour intensive and has to be done on-site by workers and engineers. A key lesson of the current crisis is to make sure that electricity systems have sufficient resources not just of physical assets but also human capital.


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Investment titans continue to get serious on ESG investments

Despite the short-to-midterm challenges of the global pandemic, the biggest challenge for multinational mining companies over the next decade will be responding to investors’ growing focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

As a focal point of how seriously the extractives industries are now taking ESG investing, over the last year the Norwegian Sovereign wealth fund (SWF) has significantly cut back investing in oil and gas stocks. At the same time, the world’s biggest mining companies have made a series of disclosures designed to boost their credentials with more ethically minded and governance-focused investors.

To illustrate this, BHP, Rio Tinto, South32, Vale and Glencore have all published detailed analyses of the risks attached to their tailings dams. Rio published an extensive list of its contracts and commercial arrangements with governments, while BHP last year published a debut report into its global water consumption. Both Rio and BHP have published “taxes paid” documents in recent years, and both have faced shareholder resolutions seeking tougher stances on carbon emissions.

“The biggest question that all these companies have got to face is around ESG,” Evy Hambro, Chief Investment Officer within BlackRock’s natural resources equities team, recently told The Australian Financial Review.

”The amount of money that is going into ESG-related products is growing very rapidly, and how these mining companies navigate through them, and the changing ESG landscape over the next decade is going to be really important.”

Ratings agency Fitch says natural resources companies are more likely to have their credit rating affected by ESG issues than the broader corporate sector. About 22% of all companies rated by Fitch have their credit rating affected by ESG issues, but for natural resources producers that figure is closer to 31%. Fitch said ESG issues, such as water consumption and community relationships, were a ”potential driver” of BHP and Rio’s credit ratings. Both miners were given a score of three out of five by Fitch, under a system where companies ranked five have the most severe ESG issues.

”I think this whole footprint of resource production needs to be better portrayed by the companies so they can keep their place in the market,” said Mr Hambro, who has also discussed ESG points at Mining Indaba.

“It is about what is the impact of resource production, and how is it actually measured, what are the consequences of people consuming those resources.”

BlackRock’s World Mining Trust counts BHP, Rio and Vale among its biggest holdings. The trust also has Glencore and OZ Minerals among its top 10 exposures.

Fellow investment behemoth, Goldman Sachs, has famously begun overhauling its environmental policies, which includes pledging to spend $750 billion on sustainable finance projects over the next decade, as well as implementing stricter lending policies for fossil fuel companies. The $750 billion will focus on financing, investing and advisory activity related to nine key themes within climate transition and inclusive growth finance, which includes things like sustainable transport, accessible and affordable education and food production.

“There is not only an urgent need to act, but also a powerful business and investing case to do so,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon wrote in an opinion piece published at the end of 2019 in the Financial Times. “Focusing on these specific goals gives us a set of metrics — such as the amount of carbon reduction and the number of people served — that we can track over time both for the companies and for ourselves,” he added.

Solomon said that companies no longer have the “luxury” of treating climate-related initiatives as a “peripheral issue,” and that financial institutions must support those driving change.

Goldman said that going forward, it will not finance any project that “directly supports new upstream Arctic oil exploration or development,” or any new coal-fired power generation project unless it also includes carbon capture or other emission cutting technologies. The firm’s prior policy only restricted funding in developed nations. The bank also said it will not back new thermal coal mine developments and that it will work with mining companies to help them diversify and cut emissions.

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Women in construction vital to sector growth – Advice for women from women in construction

As reported by Stats SA, many sectors in South Africa today are facing a downturn. In fact, the report states that construction, mining and trade are in a recession with a 3.2% decline being the biggest quarterly fall in economic activity since 2009.

In order to turn this around, a definite change is needed to uplift and grow these sectors by opening opportunities via transformation amongst other initiatives.

“It may seem like an oversimplification, but we believe in the promise of transformation, which is a long journey that aims to even the playing field for all demographics in South Africa, including women,” says Desirè Paterson, assistant to the Executive Director of the Master Builders Association Western Cape (MBAWC).

“According to the Construction Industry Development Board’s Quarterly report (October 2018), the construction industry is largely seen as a male-dominated industry, a fact that has remained reasonably consistent over the past 8 years or so, with a recorded breakdown of around 89% male and 11% female,” says Paterson.

“Although historically, this industry may have been built on the backs of many men who were passionate about building and growing our country, women can bring a different point of view to any boardroom table (or construction site) and with different points of view comes change.”

The MBAWC spoke to several female members of the industry to gather their advice for other women wanting to pursue a career in construction:

“Firstly, what women need to flourish in this industry is exposed to it and this should start at primary school level with career guidance classes.  Years ago, women shied away from construction, but today we have female quantity surveyors, architects, designers and even female builders,” says Avril Kariem, Office and HR Manager at Frost International.

Melissa Kotze, Health and Safety Officer at Dekon Projects, agrees. “Being a respected member of this industry is not all brawn and heavy lifting – although I would say construction is better suited to people ready to be active on the job,” she says.

“Skills in mechanics, engineering, bricklaying, health and safety, electricity and painting, for example, are afoot in the door for anyone wanting to enter the construction industry – and don’t tell me women can’t do this – we’ve been doing this for years.”

Portia Cleinwerck, Head Accountant and Company Administrator of Pinelands Development Company (Non-Profit Company) and Sunpark West Coast Properties, believes that, in a male-dominated industry, it is hard for women trying to ‘break ground’ with their male counterparts.

“It may sound trite, but we simply have to persevere and believe that anything is possible,” she says.

“If this is your purpose, set goals, persevere and you will achieve it. Stay true to who you are as a woman and always be humble, in everything.”

“Unfortunately, as a woman sometimes you have to work twice as hard to be recognised and prove yourself, but never give up no matter how hard it gets. If you put your mind to it, any industry can be yours to own,” points out Faith Mabena, Director Nokhanya Services.

“It is for this reason that women need to support each other,” says Caitlin O’Riley, Evaluator, Marketing Manager and National Sales Support at Derbigum Manufacturing.

“Construction is a broad industry that can be open to many people from different backgrounds, but it is vital for it to be inclusive so that men can see how women’s style of working can bring a good a balance into the mix.”

Christelle Bown, recently appointed as the second female President of the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors agrees with this sentiment.

“My experience through the years is that to a large extent, the support is there. One will always find less supportive individuals but, just like men, we as women have to earn respect. We can achieve this, not by talking like men and acting like men, but by applying our own unique female qualities to benefit projects.”

The MBAWC believes that it is vital to continue to carve a path for women in construction. “We aim to clear the road and bring equal opportunities to every person who is driven to succeed in our arena,” says Paterson.

“We believe in our hidden gems and know that with the right support and due respect, women like these listed above can help us realise true transformation while bringing the industry back to life,” she concludes.

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