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South African elections – climate policy making an impact

Voters in South Africa’s 5th democratic election will mainly be concerned by a 21% unemployment rate, fundamental problems with service provision and the economy’s track for 2009, but for a few climate change will be on their agenda.

The African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma is widely anticipated to become the next President of South Africa with a sweeping two thirds majority.  The emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) and the strengthening power of the Democratic Alliance has reignited the democratic process in South Africa and  polling stations are anticipating record number of voters.  Zuma, a populist anti-apartheid hero has ascended from being a stalwart freedom fighter with the exiled ANC during the apartheid regime to becoming the probable next president.

The manifesto of the ANC focuses on climate change through the promotion of ‘green jobs’ and if successful the ANC must maintain the promise of the resolution made in Polokwane, to ‘develop and invest in programs’ to create the green jobs, especially prudent with South Africa’s high unemployment rate. Ironically despite the huge failings of the ANC in service provision to the poorest citizens of South Africa it is this demographic group which remains stalwart in their support for Zuma and the ANC.

The ANC have framed their focus on climate change on the public works programme on energy efficiency and renewable energy for job provision.  This is where COPE comes out stronger as they aim to ensure the Expanded Public Works Programme must be successful in the creation of work to ‘clean and green’ the environment’.  However their manifesto doesn’t make explicit links to climate change which has to compete against the prioritization on a list of ‘important global challenges’ including reform of the United Nations of transnational organized crime, international terrorism.  Placing climate issues amongst these weighty and largely intangible problems to solve significantly weakens their commitment to earnestly implement climate policy.

If predictions are correct and the Democratic Alliance (DA) is able to secure a victory in the Western Cape, the ‘mother city’ – Cape Town, seriously afflicted by water shortages and predicted declines in the annual winter rainfall may be lucky with a stronger commitment by the DA to climate and energy issues.  These are both mentioned in their manifesto and their commitment to ensuring that South Africa does not wait in its ‘response to the challenges of climate change’ is clear.  If my vote was based on climate policy the DA’s focus on mitigation, which will be fundamental to South Africa, illustrates a better understanding of the importance of a strong climate policy.  Their energy section supports the tariff and a roll out of one million solar water heaters, and ultimately my confidence lies in their understanding of the importance of establishing a price for carbon.

The smaller parties such as the Independent Democrats (ID) have a much clearer stance on climate change than the ANC, for example facing the fact that South Africa is the 14th greatest emitter of greenhouse emissions and being explicit about the implications – flagging up biodiversity, water and salt- water intrusion impacts as key.  The ID’S manifesto is one of the best in terms of climate policy because of its clear proposition of renewable energy as the solution, and illustrating their appreciation of all forms they discuss ideas of radioactive waste disposal and radiation level studies at Koeberg, South Africa’s only nuclear energy facility.  The ID’s manifesto encapsulates the potential South Africa has in leading a global energy revolution and dominating the market for some technologies, namely solar thermal and solar photovoltaic’s.  Its value also comes in the proposition of applicable, tangible and necessary policy reforms that need to occur for example the ending of Eskom’s monopoly of electricity production, and the importance of implementing feed-in tariffs and investment in research and development into renewable technologies.

The smaller parties are also much more clear in their understanding of the intrinsic links between poverty and climate change, for example the Unites Democratic Movement (UDM) flags up soil erosion, water pollution and deforestation’ as a direct result of climate change.  However for the millions of South Africans that vote in the elections and take advantage of their democratic right, ganined through a tumultuous transition from the apartheid regime, most people will think of their basic individual needs not the collective need of South Africa’s climate.  Therefore Zuma’s personality, his history and character, have struck a chord in the hearts of millions of largely rural and poor voters.  One must put their faith that the largest party, despite having one of the weakest manifesto’s on climate policy will remain true to their statement on green jobs and do good in this way.

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