Solving SA unemployment the green way

Green Economy

For several decades, South Africa has been plagued by a crisis of high unemployment with ever increasing numbers of unemployed youth joining these annually. This problem is particularly acute amongst black working-class youth who are also unable to afford to pay for higher education. As most of us would know, high unemployment leads to increased poverty and inequality, with all the social ills like crime and violence associated with it.

A couple of weeks ago Green Building Design Group were invited to participate in a panel discussion on how the Green Economy can be used as a tool to drive job creation opportunities for black youths in South Africa. Herewith is an expansion of that conversation.

The Green Economy (GE) is quite broad. If we were to define it broadly we describe it as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive” (UNEP, 2011).

When talking resource efficiency, we are largely talking about resources that drive any active economy. These are water, energy and food resources.

Risk mitigation plans around these 3 major resources are key drivers in any economy; and when we introduce integrated measures to reduce the risk and to ensure effective usage of these resources, we can introduce efficiencies in work outputs whilst reducing the potential effect of climate change in our society. The necessity of risk mitigation and integrated measures take place within all markets, industry and infrastructure whether it be buildings, transport and urban systems.

When discussing the key aspects of a GE, we must also ensure its “social inclusivity” i.e. the ability to address the triple evils of SA society – poverty, unemployment and inequality.

In the New Growth Path… 300 000 new direct job were targeted from the GE. Furthermore, in the National Development Plan (all 444 pages of it) the GE has been earmarked as one of the potential levers of this new growth path.

Internationally, SA is also signatory to various climate commitments, with the 2012 Paris Agreement being the most recent of these. This agreement is also the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal aimed at getting 195 countries to look at limiting the average global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. SA has even hosted one of these COP meetings (COP17).

However as mentioned earlier the ultimate currency is job creation. Is the GE doing this? We would say yes on the investor side; and “Not so much” on the policy direction side.

An example of this is the utility-scale renewable energy programme (REI4P). This programme has attracted over R200 billion in investments (the majority of these coming from the private sector) and produced over 10 000 jobs to date. The combined investments have effectively lead to over 3 000 MW (3GW) of clean electricity being fed into the national grid over the past 6 years. And these job growth figures are not speaking to construction jobs alone but have also effectively led to a series of manufacturing jobs as a direct result of green economy requirements. these have been exemplified by through the manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, inverters; which effectively plug into the pre-existing economy as well as the installation of these technologies across the country (the latter speaks largely to the downstream activities of the GE economy). The employees of these projects have largely been previously unemployed black youths (some of whom had to be trained by the very same investors); however, this has not received as much acknowledgement from government and the media sources.

When we draw closer to the local energy services market stories of commercial developments such as office complexes, shopping malls, restaurants, industry shifting towards cleaner renewable energy sources are well reported.

In some areas, such as the Western Cape, metros are already introducing feed in tariffs to facilitate the inclusion of renewable energy to be part of their energy mix in many households and businesses. So already we are seeing that “business as usual” mindset has already been disrupted through the pro-active decisions of consumers. The municipalities have started following suit because their revenue from electricity is at risk if they don’t respond accordingly.

In the mid-2000s the Energy Service Company sector arose in response to the electricity crisis that South Africa faced. Some of these ESCo’s were initiated by Eskom, amongst the more established companies doing this service. As Eskom project subsidies disappeared, many ESCo’s survived selling the “business case” for introducing energy efficiency interventions into industry.

And now with the advent of the water crisis some of energy services companies are already shifting their supply services to see how they can assist government and society at large to address the water problems being experienced in areas like the Western Cape, Gauteng and the KZN.

The ESCo model has not been explored to its full potential. There is a potential of SMME mentorship and growth to achieve further energy and water savings – and entrepreneurial and job creation. It is largely black youths that will be called upon to play an active role in this regard.

We are already starting to see a growing demand to introduce broader resource efficiency programmes such as retrofitting of old buildings with efficient technologies – both water and energy – onsite recycling and even food production into facilities (e.g. vegetable gardens on rooftops and walls of buildings). We are also starting to see some of the large metros putting out tenders for electric buses. In 2016, we also witnessed one of the largest manufacturers of electric vehicles (Tesla Motors) open its offices in Cape Town. This is no coincidence.

The growth in the GE from the policy framework side is failing slightly. The policy roll-outs and stakeholder engagement needs more effort for success from these programs. We also need government at the higher levels to do what they say and say what they do so that investors can have a bit more certainty with their investment choices.

  • What will it require to shift South Africa towards the Green Economy and what are the benefits for the country and the Southern Africa region?

Decisiveness and practical implementation plans on the policy & governance framework side. For a period of over 12 months we had one of the most successful renewable energy programmes come to a screeching halt as result of indecision from state entities. This, in turn, has led to some uncertainty on the investor side to a point where some of the manufactures of green technologies had to temporarily withhold operational and manufacturing activity. In the most severe of these cases we are talking 200 – 300 job losses at a time. Without guaranteed offtake, there is very little that these investors can do to help address the unemployment problem.

The industry also has a responsibility to ensure that they the green economy is as socially inclusive as it claims to be. The green industry leaders need to be bolder in their endeavours to be transformative. As a country, we can’t afford to be in an environment where transformation issues are not being tackled head-on. The GE economy presents a wide opportunity for inclusiveness, as it offers a level playing field for all job entrants. On the industry side, we need to ensure there is effective mentorship for graduates and emerging professionals.

Education institutions need to also amend the curriculum to include subjects pertaining to increasing needs of this economy. Presently, we are not preparing our school leavers or tertiary students sufficiently on the aspects of climate change, low carbon economies and practical skills for implementation. All of these are not only possible but are already happening. Our organisation has already started working with tertiary institutions to provide access to various knowledge platforms to introduce green economy concepts to final year tertiary students mainly through our annual Going Green conferences (GGCs) and as much as this has been well received it is only a drop in the ocean of what is attainable to solve the unemployment crisis in South Africa.

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