The government, women, coalminers, business…each sector of South African society needs to be involved right now if, as Africa’s highest emitter of carbon, South Africa is to transform to a low carbon economy.

The Green Trust is doing something about it.

The Green Trust is funding a project that is contributing to climate change policy development and input to government processes, at the same time as it focuses on labour and grassroots participation in climate change mitigation issues.

The timing of this project could not be more critical as the green paper on the National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) is currently being submitted to cabinet.

“It’s a key moment for the country because this policy is both an enabling framework and an actual plan for mitigation and adaptation to climate change,” says The Green Trust’s climate change project leader and WWF’s national climate change officer, Louise Naudé. “The South African government has committed to a national climate change policy and everything we do from now has to be conscious of the environment.”


At the labour and grassroots level the project has been equally active. In August this year the project hosted a round-table discussion at the University of the Western Cape, titled ‘Women and Food Security as Climate Change Bites’.

“Women from all sectors of society, including women from rural areas (such as emerging female farmers from the Wuppertal area who are involved in the Green Connection Climate Change Programme) got together to discuss the role of women in our country’s climate change response, which has not been effectively addressed,” continues Naudé.

Women are central to the climate change process because, as the co-ordinator of Gender CC (Climate Change) Dorah Lebelo said at the round-table discussion: “Women are often the lowest paid, most vulnerable members of society, living in areas that are already experiencing the affects of changing weather patterns.”

The women in these communities, alongside the men, need to be shown how to diversify their crops or how to farm or fish sustainably to cope with climate variability.


Women also need to be considered for the widest range of jobs and skills required to establish a low carbon, renewable energy infrastructure, with an emphasis on solar and wind.

“The fossil fuel mining industry, such as coal mining, has traditionally been male-dominated but the new era of renewable energy needs to focus on the entire population and work force,” explains Naudé, adding that the employment prognosis is positive.

Studies conducted by the International Labour Office (ILO) in September 2008 show that the transformation to renewable energy will result in an increase in jobs.


It goes without saying that plenty of upskilling will be required to train ‘green workers’ and re-skill coalminers. It also goes without saying that jobs will be lost in the coal mining sector. At the same time jobs will increase in other sectors, such as manufacturing and metalworking.

“It’s not an overnight process and the unions are being consulted throughout this process. South Africa’s most powerful unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), are discussing their response to the green paper on climate change, and offering their solutions for the way forward,” continues Naudé.

All sectors of the workforce are becoming aware of the urgent need for renewable energy in South Africa.


“The fear that renewable energy cannot deliver the amount of energy we need is completely unfounded,” says Naudé. “We have limitless supplies of sun and wind and the technology to harness these natural energy sources at a macro level is well developed and proven in countries like Spain.

“And, unlike sourcing uranium from Russia for nuclear energy which will not create more employment and which comes with conditions, with the sun and the wind we have absolute security of energy supply without any conditions.”

South Africa is far from alone in the pressing need to develop renewable energy and to transform to a low carbon economy. In May this year, WWF-South Africa participated in a workshop attended by WWF offices from Brazil, China, India and Mexico to discuss common strategies that emerging economies can adopt to reduce their carbon footprint while at the same time continuing to develop.


“Alternative forms of sustainable development need to be investigated because if, for example, China industrialises on a carbon-intensive path any faster than it already is, it will blow the world’s carbon budget sky high,” explains Naudé.

“As part of the transition to sustainable development, workshop attendants suggested that financiers like the World Bank need to only lend money to low carbon technological development and turn down applications from carbon intensive projects.”

The 16th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Congress of the Parties conference will be hosted in Mexico at the end of this year, and 2011’s conference will be hosted in South Africa.

Every minute that goes past with greenhouses gases still being pumped into the air is incredibly scary, comments Naudé yet she remains upbeat “because the understanding and commitment is really starting to ratchet up and this is very exciting.”