Call to action for a green economy

[Image] South Africa’s state power utility Eskom is
investing heavily in wind and solar energy
technologies to reduce the country’s
reliance on coal.
(Image: MediaClubSouthAfrica.com. For
more free photos, visit the image library)

[Image] Panellists at the roundtable discussion
included, from left, Chamber of Mines CEO
Bheki Sibiya, City of Johannesburg Mayor
Parks Tau and Eskom’s executive director
of resources and strategy Dr Steve
Lennon.
(Image: Kathryn Fourie)

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Kathryn Fourie

Brand South Africa and the Financial Times hosted a roundtable discussion at COP17 on 2 December 2011, highlighting the importance of working towards a green economy by setting emission reduction targets with strong implementation plans.

Under the theme of “Opportunities and challenges of the Green Economy”, the event comprised a panel discussion between government and business leaders, including Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, City of Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau, Eskom’s executive director of resources and strategy Dr Steve Lennon and CEO of the Chamber of Mines Bheki Sibiya.

The panel was chaired by Andrew England, Southern Africa bureau chief of the Financial Times.

The discussion was attended by various stakeholders from business, academia, government and civil society.

Complex balancing act

At the heart of the COP17 negotiations are drastic changes in projected and real climate patterns and the increasing levels of carbon emissions which cause it.

Reducing these emissions is a key component of worldwide strategies to combat climate change. Broadly termed “greening the economy”, reduction efforts are characterised by governments trying to balance the needs of their economies, people and the health of the planet – far from a straightforward business.

Minister Molewa opened the event with a keynote speech highlighting the importance of working towards a green economy by setting emission reduction targets with strong implementation plans.

This is directly in line with the National Green Economy Accord that was signed in Pretoria recently. The accord focuses on the move to a low-carbon economy, while creating substantial employment within this transformation.

Figures around the 300 000 mark have been mentioned in terms of job creation, linked to a time frame of 10 years to make this a reality.

During the discussions England posed a question around the feasibility of the targets set in the accord.

South Africa is aiming for a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. Fourteen years to reduce carbon emission by almost half the current levels, without compromising on employment rates and economic profit, is a tall order – further compounded by the fact that 90% of the country’s energy today comes from coal.

Molewa stressed that while targets were high, they were based on sound study. “We will be getting into sustainable development that talks to our people, our economy and takes care of our environment,” she said.

Cleaner coal and more renewable energy

Dr Lennon of state power utility Eskom was quick to defend government strategy in utilising a variety of energy production methods in its steps of transformation, and insisted that coal burning is not prioritised over other methods of energy production.

While the government is investing heavily in wind and solar energy, with a resultant expansion in job numbers in these sectors, Lennon pointed out that Eskom is also investing in technology to produce more efficient and cleaner coal-based energy. Additionally, 20 000 new jobs will be created when the Medupi Power Station in Limpopo province comes online in 2012.

Employment and the expansion of the job market is heavily linked to the greening of the economy, and in countries like South Africa – currently battling an unemployment rate of about 25% – it’s highly necessary that the government’s ambitious planning pays off, without compromising on the environment.