The 30-year review: We can do more to address climate change

Blessing Manale is the head of communications and outreach at the Presidential Climate Commission.

Blessing Manale is the head of communications and outreach at the Presidential Climate Commission.

Published May 22, 2024


By Blessing Manale

It has been 30 years since that momentous dawn of democracy. South Africa today stands tall as a respectable global citizen with considerable influence on issues ranging from human rights to climate change and reforms of multilateral institutions, all of which inspire a great deal of pride and resilience among South Africans.

The UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, which South Africa hosted in 2002, reaffirmed sustainable development as a central element of the global action against poverty and the protection of the environment. It also identified important linkages between poverty, the environment and the use of natural resources.

The adoption of the National Development Plan in 2012 provided a clear development trajectory and enabled us to renew our vision of the South Africa we all want by 2030. It continues to provide important yardsticks through which we assess our country’s progress.

The 30-year review of South Africa democratic government provided us with a mile reading of that marathon, with a clear message is that South Africa has strong commitments towards tackling climate change and facilitating a just transition.

However, incoherent policies, weak governance structures and mixed actions by social partners are hindering progress at the pace and scale required.

The review highlights that the just transition agenda has also risen to be a priority of the government, civil society and business, with the country’s first national Just Transition Framework approved in 2022, which set out a unifying vision for a just transition alongside principles and actions to guide the transition.

Championing climate action

South Africa is committed to climate action and a just transition at the highest level of the government. The commitment began with the articulation of the right to a healthy environment for present and future generations, as enshrined in the 1996 Constitution and which has been regularly affirmed through policy commitments and political pronouncements over the past three decades.

To mention a few actions as South Africa moves towards a low-carbon and sustainable economy, one can take pride in a Just Transition Framework and legislative framework for environmental sustainability, covering water, air quality, waste, land rehabilitation and mining areas, among others.

To make the commitments happen, the recent Just Energy Transition Investment Plan was developed to facilitate progress towards low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, with several policy tools and instruments to support adaptation planning and implementation, such as Climate Change Adaptation Perspectives (CCAP) on Urban, Rural, and Coastal Human Settlements, CCAP on Food Security, Climate Information and early warning systems, Low Emissions Development Strategy, a Carbon Tax as well as the Just Transition Framework.

Great opportunities ahead

From the reports, we can identify the immediate actions that must be affected to realise South Africa’s vision for the just transition as we approach 2030, the year of meeting our national development plan targets.

The Just Transition Framework tells us that “the scope of the just transition is wide, both in the focus on people, and on the time scales of action and delivery.” This means that all sectors of the economy will be impacted, from the physical changes that climate change brings, along with the economic implications in the global transition to reduce emissions.

The staggering rates of poverty, unemployment and inequality bring to the fore the imperative of a just transition addressing the triple challenges will require that climate action be undertaken in the context of improving lives and livelihoods, particularly those most impacted in the transition.

The just transition is central to South Africa’s response to climate change: putting the lives and livelihoods of people at the heart of climate response, ensuring the most vulnerable and impacted are protected, supported and empowered in the transition. South Africa is entering a new phase of climate action. The focus is not only on setting targets but also on the delivery of the targets.

As we reflect on the country today, there is a lot we have achieved in tackling climate change and the pursuit of sustainable development of people. Yet, there is much that remains to be done to free us from the shackles of energy insecurity, environmental degradation, marginalisation and economic exclusion.

This 30-year review has provided us a performance appraisal of our democratic journey and a navigation path for the work we must undertake. Our focus is to accelerate action and ensure that we leave no one behind.

Blessing Manale is the head of communications: Presidential Climate Commission.