Our Burning Planet

CLIMATE AND ELECTIONS OP-ED

Party manifestos lacking on urgent need to mitigate climate change

Party manifestos lacking on urgent need to mitigate climate change
Illustrative image: An aerial view of drought-stricken farms in the Kakamas area in the Northern Cape. (Photo: Ethan van Diemen) | Makhanda , Eastern Cape, 6 June 2023.(Photo: Deon Ferreira) | Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) Eastern Cape, 17 September 2023. (Photo: Deon Ferreira) | The R60 road that connects Robertson to Worcester on 25 September 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians) | Wall. (Photo: Jacob Dyer / Unsplash)

From Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ to catastrophic storms in Durban, from land degradation to habitat destruction, South Africa is no stranger to environmental crises. Yet, party-political manifestos for the general election in May hardly reflect the drastic implications of climate change and the social impact on our country’s natural resources.

Party manifestos instead focus on the ongoing unemployment crisis, rebuilding the economy and ending gender-based violence. These are all very important issues facing South African citizens. But many of these can be seen as bedded in, and dependent on, a robust and healthy environment.

We must not make the mistake of seeing jobs and environmental issues as mutually exclusive.

The ruling ANC, and the official opposition party, the DA, pay the least attention to environmental issues, suggesting that they do not see these as vote-catchers, while the EFF devotes the most manifesto space of all the parties to a range of environmental and conservation issues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Climate change has been a towering presence in South African life. 

It was not too long ago that there was an ongoing water crisis due to severe drought – in 2018 Cape Town almost had to declare ‘Day Zero’ – which has been linked to harsher El Niño climate patterns that cause the country to experience less and less rainfall. 

South Africa has a large agricultural sector (both commercial and subsistence farming) where water security, amid growing concerns about the reality of climate change, has a big impact on the future of people’s livelihoods and the continued growth of the economy as a whole.

Given these circumstances, the amount of space or the way political parties include environmental protection and climate change concerns in their manifestos is a way for voters to judge a party’s commitment to sustained change. 

Economic stability

Climate change improvement – holding the rise in global temperature to below 2°C – through the protection and growth of healthy, natural ecosystems is closely linked with continued economic stability. 

These ecosystems help mitigate climate change as carbon sinks and provide environments for pollinators to thrive. 

Continued pollinator health and diversity contribute to economic stability through agriculture because pollinator-dependent crops make up about 35% of crop production volume globally, and this in turn contributes to food security. 

Studies show a close link between economic stability and environmental conservation, healthier ecosystems and slowing down merely climate change. 

ANC and DA

The ANC and the DA give no more than a nod to the climate crisis (two and three points respectively), with almost no mention of environmental conservation. 

The ANC’s main promises are to “prioritise green technologies, energy efficiency, waste management, climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure and eco-friendly production processes to ensure long-term sustainability” and to “mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, technological changes and other trends in the context of a just transition and ensure that South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy supports communities and workers in affected areas.” 

They are aspirational promises, as much of the infrastructure needs intensive work amid the harsh realities of load shedding, failing sewerage infrastructure and water scarcity that South Africans face daily. 

However, it does not clarify how including green and eco-friendly structures would improve South Africans’ lived experiences. This, and the lack of implementing detail, suggests their inclusion is merely lip service rather than actionable plans.

The DA chose instead to focus on promoting renewable energy.

“Building local manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technologies without resorting to protectionist trade practices and incentivising the training and development of skills capacity in the renewable energy sector” and “reducing high tariffs on imports of renewable energy technologies (such as PV panels and other goods) to ensure that these technologies are more affordable and accessible.”

And the last is a commitment to reduce the impact of carbon emissions from energy generation on the climate through diversifying the energy grid. 

Renewable energy is a big talking point, but in reality, it is a speck on the path to changing the trajectory of climate change in this global crisis.

IFP

The IFP includes a section on the environment in its manifesto. 

The main points focus on the role the community plays in environmental conservation; the preservation of South Africa’s unique ecosystems, including ocean ecosystems and a crackdown on poaching. 

It also encourages “recycling and proper disposal of plastic waste.” 

However, the importance of these points is diminished at the beginning of the manifesto where the IFP includes a 10-point summary of its 13-point plan, which excludes any reference to the environment. 

This leaves readers/voters to scroll to page 30 of their 40-page manifesto before they can begin to find out if the IFP thinks that the environment is worth protecting in the first place.

EFF

The EFF has the most points, 34 in total, on the environment and climate in its manifesto. 

It covers a variety of issues ranging from protecting threatened areas of the environment to enforcing legislation so that companies will rehabilitate abandoned mines, to creating one million jobs so South Africa can transition from a coal-based energy system to using a variety of sources, nuclear, renewable and coal. 

Many of these points are appropriate – the EFF seems to have carefully thought through the importance of environmental conservation and climate change in South Africa’s future. 

However, with a manifesto as long and detailed as the EFF’s (260 pages, with over 30 points in multiple sections), voters will need to decide if it is a manifesto with promises that can be kept. Such as the creation of millions of new mineral-related jobs while also ensuring that mines produce zero acid water runoff. 

Rise Mzansi

Rise Mzansi, a newcomer to the electoral race, has a “People’s Manifesto” with only six climate change points. 

Still, the party is concise and emphasises the need for transitional phases while the country changes its modes for storing and generating electricity. 

There is a similar emphasis in its proposed plans for transport, industry, agriculture, the economy and disaster management. 

Despite Rise Mzansi’s goals on combating climate change, it makes no mention of environmental conservation and its role in improving the domestic economy.

The party manifestos lack sufficient focus on climate change and environmental conservation as among the most prevalent issues in changing and rebuilding South Africa, and because of this, they might be missing opportunities to address multiple issues facing voters. 

Nature-based recovery

After the turmoil of the pandemic, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a technical paper on how nature-based recovery can help create jobs while also restoring the environment and mitigating the effects of climate change. 

Creating jobs can be as simple as replanting forests, grasslands and other ecologically threatened areas. Unskilled jobs might not be permanent solutions, but they do allow some income generation and this is work equally accessible to both women and youth. 

These jobs can help close the gender gap by creating opportunities for more work. In this way, the environment, job creation and gender inequality can be addressed by focusing on nature-based recovery solutions. South Africa already has an example of the effectiveness of this system in its Working for Water programme. 

Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation asks why, if there are precedents for how these nature-based solutions can be effective in combating some of the biggest issues faced by South Africans, do more parties not feature these plans within their manifestos? 

Is it a question of short-term gain without fully considering how to make a long-term difference? 

Regardless, continued public awareness and education of how the preservation of nature will always be linked to sustainable economic growth is the key to a better future for all. DM

Experts will debate the merits of the environmental content of party political manifestos in a Tipping Points webinar on 25 April, titled ‘People, place and planet at the polls’. Register here

The panellists are executive manager of WaterCAN Dr Ferrial Adam and general secretary and co-founder of the Climate Justice Coalition Dr Alex Lenferna. The panel facilitator is Julia Evans, climate and biodiversity journalist at Daily Maverick’s Our Burning Planet. Tipping Points webinars are hosted by OGRC.

B Meyer writes for Jive Media Africa, science communication partner to Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation (OGRC).

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • peter selwaski says:

    CO2 is plant food. Earth is entering a cooler climate due to the Grand Solar Minimum. Take a look at netzerowatchDOTcom and electroverseDOTinfo for real changes outside of SA.

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