With COP26 behind us, many countries, including South Africa, renewed their commitment to step-up efforts to mitigate climate change. Ours, not unexpectedly, included a commitment to reduce our carbon emissions from Eskom’s coal-based power supply towards renewable, clean energy in the medium-to-long term (by 2030).
In preparation for COP26, South Africa submitted a revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce domestic carbon emissions within a target range between 420 CO2-eq and 350 CO2-eq. Several developed nations including Germany, France, the United States, United Kingdom and the EU pledged over R131 billion ($8.5 billion) over the next three to five years to support our transition to a low-carbon economy .
At last! Bravo!
Loadshedding has been with us since 2008. Yet, in just over a decade, we have not made much progress towards either fixing the ailing parastatal, nor shifting our dependence towards more sustainable, eco-friendly energy sources.
Which begs the question, why not? Lack of funds? Lack of political will? Or lack of focus?
South Africa is known as the most unequal society on earth, with a Gini co-efficient of 63 last recorded in 2014 . The Gini co-efficient measures the income disparity between the country’s richest to the poorest and is a known predictor of political and economic instability. The higher the Gini ratio, the greater the gap in income, resulting in slowed GDP growth, political polarisation, reduced income mobility and climbing household debt.
Since 2006, there has been a greater dependence on social grants and less reliance on income from the labour market in the bottom 60% of the population. The Eastern Cape has the highest levels of unemployment and inequality , with the Western Cape and Mpumalanga coming in second. Job creation should be our first priority from which all other aspirations emanate. Yet, ironically, a stable and sustainable energy supply is critical for businesses to flourish.
From the most basic of No Poverty and Zero Hunger, Clean Water & Sanitation and Quality Education, to higher order goals of Affordable & Clean Energy, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and Responsible Consumption and Production, amongst others, policymakers have the unenviable task of balancing conflicting agendas.
At its core, it’s a standard to evaluate the progress being made across the world to reduce poverty, improve quality of life and realise the aspirations of masses of people towards development.
However, the goals or priorities of developed nations compared to developing or underdeveloped nations, cannot be the same. If we go back to Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, without the fundamental needs of food, shelter and water being met, no human will be motivated to achieve any higher order goals. Most of these goals need to be tackled in tandem, simultaneously, to produce desirable outcomes.
ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance – is the buzzword in boardrooms and stock exchanges worldwide. But it’s relative. Relative to the level of development or industrialisation of a country. Relative to the size of the population and their level of education and skills. Relative to the resources at their disposal. And relative to the political will to implement the necessary policies and programmes.
So which of the SDG’s 17 global goals do we tackle first?
Goal 8 is “to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.
With the highest unemployment rate in the world at 34.4%, our most pressing need is to urgently reduce the alarming levels of youth unemployment and provide them with broader opportunities.
And yes, in order to do that, we need a steady, sustainable energy supplier.
FloorworX is a local flooring manufacturer that supplies vinyl composite tiles (VCT) and sheeting made from locally sourced limestone to hospitals, clinics and schools. Based in East London, their factory employs 50 people for four-days a week, feeding on average eight people per household. That means 400 people directly benefit from the 50 jobs on offer. That’s apart from the jobs of contractors and installers, their raw material suppliers and utilities suppliers such as electricity and water. If demand for their SuperFlex VCT’s doubled – say through multiple hospital and education projects – the required output would add another shift to their operation, taking their employment capacity to 100, now affecting 800 people. Aside from the added employment opportunities, the increased capacity would have a knock-on effect through increased raw material procurement, higher operational costs and hopefully, added profitability and consequently taxation and improved fiscal outlook in the long run.
The benefits of buying local are obvious: Product availability, shorter lead times, quality improvements, lower transport costs and reduced carbon miles, on time delivery and improved cashflows, skills transfer and training, faster national development. Who wouldn’t want that? Specify SA. Everyone wins.