/Mamphela Ramphele: Africas opportunity to turn climate change crises into prosperity

Mamphela Ramphele: Africas opportunity to turn climate change crises into prosperity

2019-08-27 05:00

No job is too important to be created or sustained at the expense of the well being of our children and their future, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

There is no place to hide from the climate
emergencies upon us. We have the responsibility as the people and citizens of
Africa, to put pressure on our leaders to respond urgently and decisively to
turn these crises into opportunities for greater shared prosperity.

Africa, the Mother Continent, is both the
most vulnerable and has the greatest opportunities to respond to the climate
emergencies upon us. Our population profile as the youngest in the world offers
us the opportunity to innovate and to harness youthful energy to transform our
socio-economic models. We have vast expanses of land including desert areas, to
use for renewable energy programs and to plant millions of trees to absorb the
noxious gases that are chocking us.

We need to demand that our leaders live up
to the commitments they have made under the 2015 IPCC Paris Agreement to lead
just transitions to more ecologically sound development approaches. Those
commitments come with the negotiated $200bn per annum of development aid to
fund just transition programs. Why are we not dipping into this treasure trove?

This last week alone we were
confronted with the realities of the Greenpeace Report that
Kriel in Mpumalanga, with its high concentration of coal-fired power stations,
ranks as the second worst SO2 emission
hotspot in the world. SO2 is a
toxic pollutant that can result in lower respiratory infections, increased risk
of stroke and increased risk of death from diabetes. SO2 emissions also contribute to the
secondary formation of the dangerous pollutant called fine particulate matter
(PM 2.5), which expert research shows is causally linked to several severe
conditions, including lung cancer.

Globally, power plants and
industries burning coal and oil are responsible for two-thirds of human
generated sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission hotspots tracked by NASA satellites.
Oil refineries and metals smelters are the other major sources worldwide. This
ranking of global SO2 emission
hotspots demonstrates the need for stronger emission standards for coal power
plants and industry and a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Yet we have
Eskom and Sasol still daring to ask to be exempted from meeting standards they
knew they had to meet more than a decade ago. How can we the people continue to
allow this irresponsibility?

The biggest
impediment to decisive effective climate emergency action and transformation of
development approaches, especially in the energy, water and waste removal
arena, is the lack of political will. The fear of loss of jobs seems to
overwhelm our leaders who should know better than just transitions are not only
possible but essential to securing our future as a human species.

The reality is that
more sustainable jobs and a healthier environment can only be secured by taking
bold steps to re-engineer us out of the current emergency situation on both the
climate and job fronts. Re-imagining our cities, towns and rural settlements
into ecologically sound habitats would unleash an amazing wave of positive
energy, economic growth and healthier environment.

The District Model
of Development announced by the Presidency last week offers a great opportunity
to remodel our development approach into a more inclusive sustainable one. Building
sustainability into each District would enhance positive development outcomes.

Let’s look at
Kriel. Ancient Africa used Mpumalanga as a breadbasket for SADC. The rich seams
of coal left undisturbed for millennia made for fertile soil that produced
endless rich harvests. What stops us from getting the mining industry, Eskom
and Sasol working with government at the local, provincial and national levels to
rehabilitate the land by closing the taps of pollution, planting millions of
trees, and supporting locals to be productive in the agribusiness arena? Young
unemployed people and many workers fearing retrenchment would benefit the most.

The Western Cape is
another area under the spotlight since the drought two years ago. Gang violence
is a symptom of sick, neglected communities where young people join gangs to gain
a sense of belonging. Gangsterism has and will continue to defy the army
response we threw at it.

Imagine if we had
listened to the mothers who said: We do
not need the army, we need social workers!
Re-engineering the Cape Flats
and all other townships designed by the apartheid system as dormitories are
essential to restore the dignity of those communities and weave together
support networks and rebuild trust. 

Tree planting, food
gardens and effective waste removal and strategic recycling could become key
job creators and beautify the environment to restore the human dignity of
residents. Schools in these communities need to be reclaimed as centres of
community with blooming flower and vegetable gardens maintained by unemployed
young people.

Why can’t the
Eastern Cape be restored into another food basket it has the soil to be as well
as ecotourism region? Xolobeni and other areas remain high potential areas for
rural economic regeneration and preservation of the scenic sand dunes being
circled by an Australian company that would not be allowed to mine titanium on
the sand dunes of its own country. Why should we be allowing foreign companies
to undermine our ecosystems in the name of jobs when more sustainable alternatives
are staring us in the face?

We need to learn the
lessons from the failure of our leaders to hold mining companies accountable
for ecosystem protection. Take Kabwe in Zambia, where Human Rights Watch
reports that lead exposure around a former lead and zinc mine is
having disastrous effects on children’s health. Yet despite World Bank
financial support, the government has yet to act decisively to clean up the
environment and treat those affected, especially the children.

No job is too important to be created or sustained at
the expense of the well being of our children and their future. Eskom’s
turnaround strategy must include weaning itself off the addiction to coal. The
abundant sun, wind, biofuels need to be leveraged to make the rapid transition
to a renewable energy future for our country. That future offers us another
opportunity to move away from migrant labour that has destroyed African
families across the country, and create sustainable jobs where people live. The
District development model is just what the doctor ordered.

Our futures, and those of our children’s children are
too important for us to miss the current opportunity of turning our multiple
crises into springboards for an ecologically sound and prosperous future.

– Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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