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Greening SADC towards Vision 2030

Keynote address by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), Barbara Creecy, at the Nedbank-NBF Networking Forum

It is an honour and privilege for me to address this important Networking Forum which will give all of us an opportunity  to share views on the green economy and the  just transition of the SADC region to a low carbon economy and a climate resilient society.  If we are to appropriately position our discussion around the opportunities of the green economy and the correct location of the just transition, it is important to begin our discussion today with an adequate understanding of the physical and transition risks that climate change poses for Southern Africa.

The latest climate science documented in the Sixth International Panel on Climate Change Report released in April this year documents the physical risk that climate change poses to Southern African countries and cautions that its impact is already denting economic growth.

The report explains the Earth’s average surface temperature has already warmed by over one degree centigrade since pre-industrial times. Furthermore, Southern Africa is warming at twice the average global rate and the report estimates temperature increases of over two degrees centigrade. 

What we now all know with certainty is that climate change is already part of our lived reality: floods, severe storms, drought, heatwaves and uncontrolled fire impact our region and already threaten lives, agricultural production, water security, tourism, health, infrastructure, ecosystems and biodiversity.

In addition to the physical risk, Southern African economies also face a transition risk associated with climate change. As the major economies transition to new green technologies they will seek to protect their investments by introducing trade barriers to goods and services produced in economies with a higher carbon foot print. Obviously the South African economy, with its reliance on coal fired energy generation is most at risk.

In the shift to more sustainable industries, be they in mining, manufacturing or electricity generation, we need to ensure that in our country and broader region  are not left behind. Southern Africa is uniquely positioned to benefit from the opportunities in the green economy and one will say more about this later. However, this will require a paradigm shift in our approach to development and government priorities so we mitigate our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and begin the long road to adapting to the impacts that lie ahead. 

Because we know that climate change affects the whole of society, business, and government, we have to find a way to develop a whole of society response that will allow all interested parties and stakeholders to participate. 

In this regard, the Presidential Climate Commission established in October 2020 is instructive. Representing government, business, organised labour and civil society this body can now boast its role in developing South Africa’s revised NDCs, concluding a Just Transition Framework and researching pathways for transitioning several sectors of the SA economy severely impacted upon by climate change. Consideration will need to be given at this forum on the appropriateness of this model for the SADC community.

Overarching framework legislation will also be important for SADC countries to guide all levels of government, multiple departments and different stakeholders within a common climate change response strategy. 

In this regard South Africa’s Climate Bill which is currently under consideration in the National Assembly offers a template for discussion today.  Our own experience is that one can only achieve so much on a voluntary basis. In developing countries with limited budgets and infinite need, without a regulatory environment one will always find climate priorities fall lower down the agenda.

The Paris Agreement to which the SADC countries are signatories require participating governments to take three measures to deal with climate change namely  mitigation meaning a contribution to reducing green house gases; adaptation to the realities of climate change and means of implementation which translates to allocating financial and technical resources to implement climate change responses.

While climate change will have a major impact on countries in the SADC region, it is important to understand that this region only contributes 2% to global emission levels, with South Africa responsible for the majority of these emissions, mostly due to the country’s reliance on coal-fired plants for electricity generation. 

In this regard, it is safe to say that SADC countries are mainly focused in the multi -national negotiations on the impact climate change is having on their countries. With the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the global climate change regime has become more contested between developed and developing nations as we enter the implementation phase of the Convention. 

Developing countries, including our SADC region, have demonstrated a gesture of goodwill to the world community by acceding to target setting through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) commitments.  

However contestation remains intense when it comes to the convention having a clear work plan on adaptation, an approach to loss and damage and of course on the vexed issue of means of implementation.  

In this regard developing countries are concerned about the burden climate change mitigation and adaptation will place on already vulnerable economies. Concern also relates to the fact that developed countries have not yet honoured historical financial commitments to developing countries, let alone engaged in the future requirements!

The revised SADC Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (2020-2030) was adopted in June 2021. The document identifies key sectors in the region that can contribute to the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient future. These include, energy, land use, forestry, agriculture, transport  and waste.

In the action plan the energy sector is identified as a “low hanging fruit” due to the opportunity provided for a downturn in emissions and a shift towards increased uptake of renewable energy generation. According to the Southern African Power Pool, 62% of power generation in the region is from coal, and only 32% of the rural population in the region have access to electricity. 

Whereas South Africa enjoys relatively widespread electrification, many other countries in SADC suffer from energy poverty due to insufficient generation capacity, and general lack of access. 

Energy generation is therefore recognised in the strategy as an important area of focus both in relation to shifting South Africa’s electricity generation to a greener energy mix, and meeting the energy poverty needs of the rest of SADC.

The SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, launched in 2016, was established to oversee and upscale implementation of renewable energy and efficient energy generation. The centre manages a number of concurrent projects including a renewable energy entrepreneurship support facility, and the development of H2 Atlas Africa   – the Atlas of Green Hydrogen Generation Potential in Africa.

The SADC Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan also acknowledges that the region’s forestry resources have the potential to act as significant carbon sinks. The SADC region’s size, and the fact that it includes the massive Congo rainforest, means that it is home to almost 394 million hectares of forest and similar biological formations. 

If these natural resources were to be adequately protected and integrated into the climate change adaptation and development planning agendas of SADC member states, they could act as climate sinks contributing to the climate change mitigation strategies of member states. In order to harness the potential of this sector in the region, SADC aims to promote sustainable forestry management and restoration through transboundary community management of forests.

These are just two sectors that are being considered in SADC’s planning towards the greening of the regional economy in the hope of meeting development objectives and mainstreaming climate change adaptation. 

Our region has abundant resources that we must employ in our transition to a low-carbon future. Events such as today’s are crucial in determining how we can harness this potential, and how we can develop partnerships that ensure that our region is not  just a spectator in the shift to a green economy.

Before I conclude it is important to say a few words on the concept of a justice in the climate transition. All research points to the fact that climate change affects those living and working in vulnerable economic sectors differently.

Accordingly, the Presidential Climate Commission tells us everyone affected must be part of developing the solutions and there must be an equitable distribution of risks and opportunities so that vulnerable workers and communities do not carry the burden of change. Climate transitions will only succeed in the SADC region if they help us with our broader developmental objectives, namely, economic inclusion, employment and building a more equal society.

This will require active labour markets that can meet emerging human resource needs; social protection for vulnerable individuals and households; economic diversification for at risk sectors as well as effective governance and finance.

We recognise the role of our regional bodies such as SADC Secretariat and NEPAD in advancing our developmental agenda in the context of sustainable development. Through the SADC mechanism, our primary mandate is to pursue an accelerated sustainable development of the SADC economy. We take note of the critical role played by other bodies as well such as the NEPAD. Going forward it will important for us to forge a concerted regional scale implementation framework for the Just Transition in the interest of our countries.

Today’s event is convened under the thematic  title  “Greening SADC towards Vision 2030 – Coordinating public and private sector collaboration to accelerate SADC’s just transition strategy”.  

We devote our presence here today to listen to perspectives from participants on finding plausible alternatives to attain 2030 vision aspirations in the context of our various mandates both in the private and public sectors. 

The perspectives we hear will no doubt be as diverse and multifaceted as the SADC region itself. What is needed in the face of the climate crisis in concerted action and new, fresh ideas that ensure that our region is not caught unprepared in the years ahead. 

I would like to end with a quote from the young African climate change activist Vanessa Nakate:

Climate change is more than statistics; it’s more than data points. It’s more than net-zero targets. It’s about the people, those that are being impacted right now.

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