Climate Change

How important are climate issues in South African elections

When climate adaptation is not the mainstream political agenda, driving the South Africa’s National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy will be a challenge

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Wednesday 08 May 2019

Southern Africa is on the frontline of rising global temperature. Even as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called upon the world to restrict the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is projected to hit South Africa double as hard as the average. In fact according to the South African Government, a global average temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius would translate to up to 4 degrees Celsius for the country by the end of the century.

In this context, South Africa’s National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) released on May 6, 2019 underlines adapting to changes to combat global warming for a sustainable and strong South Africa. But as the nation is set to elect its president on May 8, 2019 for the next five years, “climate adaptation” has not been the “mainstream political agenda” in manifestos of major political parties such as the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

According to the media reports, ANC is likely to win 60 per cent of the votes and gain power again. This shows a major gap in the political will of a nation vulnerable to climate change. 

Ruling understatement

ANC has promised to focus on renewable energy and public transport and invest in safe, reliable and integrated public rail transport. Party President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his manifesto that he would continue to support the use of renewable technologies in the country’s energy mix to cut costs and reduce greenhouse emission. Ramaphosa has also acknowledged that the country has large coal reserves, which can be used to provide cheap energy.  

In fact, about 77 per cent of South Africa’s primary energy needs are provided by coal and the department of energy has acknowledged that this is unlikely to change significantly in the next two decades, owing to the relative lack of suitable alternatives to coal as an energy source.  Considering this, will the party be able to fulfill its promise of cleaner and cheap energy?  

The party also focuses on promoting sustainable use of water resources, including smart agriculture, to mitigate the impact of climate change, as well as building the local industry through increased localisation and creating jobs.

While the ruling party focuses on mitigation actions, it lacks on adaptation planning, which is equally critical since the country is vulnerable to climate impacts.

The other side

Besides ANC, Democratic Alliance (DA) — the largest opposition party in South Africa — has stressed upon the mitigation actions too. It has promised to build a registry of mitigation actions focusing on a number of projects, programmes and policies covering — energy efficiency, renewable energy, public transport and carbon capture and storage (CCS) too. It also offers to create a comprehensive geological atlas that identifies appropriate areas for sequestration and introduce the required regulations and incentives to attract private sector investment and agriculture. 

Even as experts have debated this in the past, this does resonate with the IPCC report which says that carbon capture is needed to avoid catastrophe.

DA has committed on making the country climate-resilient by prioritising actions on disaster management and better planning for drought and other climate-related challenge that would affect the agriculture sector the most. It has also promised to work on improving implementation of building regulations to minimise the risks from extreme weather events.

The Opposition party’s manifesto also includes a plan for the coastal management focusing on development along coastal areas. Enhancing the water infrastructure, protecting particularly vulnerable communities through insurance and utilising indigenous knowledge to adapt have also been stated by the party.

Missing the agenda

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has promised to reduce carbon emissions by 10 per cent by 2024, if voted to power. That's not ambitious enough, according to African Climate Reality Project.  

Climate change has also been undermined by United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). While promising to provide a courageous political leadership in the environmental arena, IFP has promised to prioritise renewable energy but it does not elaborate the matter further. 

Analysing the manifestos, the African Climate Reality Project underlined the critical failure of the political leadership to prioritise climate action, environmental justice, and a just transition to a low-carbon society.   

The winning party will be responsible for implementing the 10-year NCCAS that serves as South Africa’s National Adaptation Plan and fulfils the country’s commitment to its international obligations as outlined in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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