Acting now on climate change is an opportunity to overcome the global economic crisis by creating pro-poor jobs and sustainable green growth, South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe said in his opening address at the government’s Climate Change Summit 2009 in Midrand yesterday.
The four-day summit in Midrand is an opportunity for key stakeholders to discuss and agree the framework for a national climate change response strategy.
The climate change challenge in South Africa is ultimately about combating poverty, sustainable development and energy supply, the president said. It is poor communities who have contributed the least to climate change that will bear the brunt of the impacts, he said. The policy frameworks for a transition to a low-carbon economy are an insurance policy against the worst impacts of climate change.
The country’s emissions need to peak between 2020 and 2025, stabilise for the next decade and then start to decrease from mid-century but to do this the country needs a coherent strategy.
Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the minister of environmental affairs and tourism, said: “We cannot allow ourselves to dither at the point when action and implementation are most critical.”
Describing how much had changed since South Africa’s first national climate change summit four years ago, he said that although a great deal of progress had been made, the challenges had become more urgent.
Climate change is now one of the government’s foremost priorities and internationally the message is resounding that climate change is happening now and will get far worse unless we substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions immediately.
Action on climate change needs to be seen as an investment in the future, he said. The development of clean and renewable technologies is imperative and holds many opportunities for green investment and green jobs. “Today we know that if we continue without a carbon constraint we face the threat of border tax adjustments or trade sanctions from key trading partners and the destruction of thousands of jobs in the high-emitting trade exposed sectors.”
Thanks to the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios study released last year, South Africa is now aware that if the country does nothing to reduce its carbon emissions and continues on a business-as-usual path, its emissions, which are already relatively high by international standards, will quadruple by 2050 with potentially dire consequences.
He said that local industry must be prepared for a new era in which mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions will become part of the regulatory landscape. The department of environment affairs and tourism “has initiated a process of developing greenhouse gas measurement monitoring and reporting regulations that will shift our work in this regard from a voluntary to a mandatory level”.
He said South Africa is willing to substantially deviate from its business-as-usual emissions trajectories, but the rich countries of the north must take the first steps with deep emissions cuts and financial and technical support for developing countries.
The world needs a strong, innovative, multilateral solution to climate change, said Beki Ntshalintshali, the deputy general secretary of Cosatu. Without that “the main victims of climate change will be the poor (as we have seen in the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and Soweto) and workers, particularly in developing countries.”
The challenges of poverty and climate change have to be tackled in a mutally reinforcing manner, he said.