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South Africa's Green Economy Strategy

Author: Compiled by Chief Directorate: Communication, Department of Environmental Affairs, Pretoria

( Article Type: Sustainable Development )

What is Green Economy? 

The Green Economy refers to two interlinked developmental outcomes for the South African economy: 

  • Growing economic activity (which leads to investment, jobs and competitiveness) in the green industry sector; 
  • A shift in the economy as a whole towards cleaner industries and sectors with a low environmental impact compared to its socio-economic impact. 

Green Economy can create green jobs, ensure real sustainable economic growth and prevent environmental pollutionglobal warming, resource depletion and environmental degradation.

Green Economy is a growing economic development model based on the knowledge that aims to address the interdependence of economic growth and natural ecosystems and the adverse impact economic activities can have on the environment. 


What is South Africa's commitment to a Green Economy? 

South Africa’s transition to a green economy is on the right track with government departments developing effective implementation plans and creating green jobs. 

In the midst of the global economic crisis the UN Environment Programme’s called for a Global Green New Deal according to which governments are encouraged to support its economic transformation to a greener economy that creates green jobs, promotes sustainable and inclusive growth and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. In responding to the United Nations’ call, the Department of Environmental Affairs convened a Green Economy Strategy Summit in May 2010 to gather valuable insights on key focus areas and issues requiring attention with respect to the green economy.

In the subsequent framework for South Africa’s response to the international economic crisis, government recognises the opportunities in the development of industries that combat the negative effects of climate change and urges South Africa to develop strong capacity in green technologies and industries.


Investing in a Green Future

Accordingly it urges the development of incentives for investment in a programme geared at creating a large number of green jobs. About 300 000 jobs could be created in South Africa’s renewable energy sector over the next 10 years, of which 20 000 is achievable in the next 2 years.

Investments in both public and private sectors, provide the mechanism for the reconfiguration of businesses, infrastructure and institutions, and for the adoption of sustainable consumption and production processes. Such reconfiguration will lead to a higher share of green sectors in the economy, more green and decent jobs, reduced energy and material intensities in production processes, less waste and pollution, and significantly reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.

  • Countries like Denmark have made tremendous strides in industrial energy efficiency.
  • Brazil which is a developing country has set targets for the reliance on fossil power to be reduced by 2020.
  • China has invested a large part of its fiscal stimulus package into clean energy.


South Africa's Green Economy Targets

South Africa will implement nationally appropriate mitigation actions that will result in the reduction of emissions by 34% relative to our Business as Usual trajectory by 2020 and by 42% in 2025. The extent to which this commitment is achieved depends on the provision of finance, technology and capacity building support by developed countries and through the UN climate change regime.

South Africa relies on its coal mines for 80% of its energy supply and that needs to change. South Africa needs to look at new ways to generate clean energy for sustainable economic and social development and to reduce its dependency on coal. Bold and achievable targets to generate clean energy must be investigated and implemented.

South Africa’s Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) have allowed for the development of a national climate policy based on what is required by science to limit temperature increase to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In response to the LTMS, the Government has adopted mitigation strategies that focus on accelerated energy efficiency across all sectors, ambitious low carbon technology research and development, new clean energy sources and behavioural change, as well as regulatory mechanisms and economic instruments. 

As a result of these strategies, South Africa’s emissions will grow at a reduced rate in the short term, plateau by 2030, and decline thereafter. In support of the Government’s strategies, the CTF co-financed IP will focus on scaling up:

 A Phase 2 of the IP is expected to include substantial investment in low carbon transport, on the basis of a transport sector greenhouse gas inventory that the Government is undertaking. 


What are Green Jobs?

Green Jobs can be defined as work in:
  • Agricultural
  • manufacturing
  • research and development
  • administrative, and
  • service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality.

 Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; decarbonise the economy; and minimise or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution. 


How will Green Jobs help South Africa? 

Greater efficiency in the use of energy, water, and materials is a core objective i.e. achieving the same economic output (and level of well-being) with far less material input.


  • Green Jobs need to be decent work i.e. good jobs which offer adequate wages, safe working conditions, job security, reasonable career prospects and worker rights. People’s livelihoods and sense of dignity are bound up tightly with their jobs. 
  • Green Jobs span a wide array of skills, educational backgrounds, and occupational profiles. They occur in:
    •  research and development
    •  professional fields such as engineering and architecture 
    • project planning and management 
    • auditing
    • administration 
    • marketing
    • retail and customer services
    • many traditional blue-collar areas such as plumbing or electrical wiring; science and academia, professional associations, and civil society organizations (advocacy and community organizations, etc.
  • Green jobs exist in private business and government offices (standard setting, policymaking, permitting, monitoring and enforcement, support programs, etc).
  • Some green jobs are easily identifiable – such as people employed in installing a solar panel or operating a wind turbine. Others, particularly in supplier industries, may be far less so. For instance, a particular piece of specialty steel may be used to manufacture a wind turbine tower without the steel company employees even being aware of that fact. Thus, some jobs come with a clear ‘green badge,’ whereas others—in traditional sectors of the economy—may not have an obvious green look and feel. 


How the Green Economy will benefit South Africa

These developments towards a Green Economy are the nexus of the growing needs to develop and further elaborate the economic case for environmental management and sustainable development including scaling up labour intensive natural resources management programmes that contribute to decent work and livelihood opportunities.

The need for Climate Change action and overall resource management and protection is geared to accelerate the pace of green job creation and overall green investments in the years ahead.

A global transition to a low carbon and sustainable economy can create large numbers of green jobs across many sectors of the economy, and indeed can become an engine of development. South Africa has a rich natural resource base and ranks amongst the top 3 in the world’s most bio-diverse countries.


Key Sectors expected to Drive SA's Green Economy

Sectors include: 

  • agriculture
  • green buildings
  • greener transport including electric vehicles & bus rapid transit
  • green cities
  • forests 
  • energy supply including grid-connected solar, thermal, and large wind power projects, energy efficiency including demand-side management
  • water
  • fisheries
  • industry and manufacturing
  • tourism
  • waste management 
  • retail
  • natural resources  
  • consultancy, policy, research and governance. 


Environment Sector Contribution to Green Economy

  Key focus areas related programmes: 

  1. Resource conservation and management National payments for ecosystem services Up-scale ‘Working for’ programmes Infrastructure resilience and ecosystems Offset programme Wildlife management
  2. Sustainable waste management practices Waste beneficiation Zero waste community programme for 500 000 households
  3. Water management Water harvesting Alternative technology for effluent management Comprehensive municipal water metering (Demand side) Reduce water losses in agriculture, municipalities and mining 
  4. Cross-cutting Greening and legacy  Research, awareness, training, skills development and knowledge management
  5. Green buildings and the built environment Greening private and public buildings 
  6. Sustainable transport and infrastructure Promoting non-motorised transport 
  7. Clean energy and energy efficiency Expand off-grid options in rural and urban areas REFIT optimisation for large scale renewable and localisation Up-scale Solar Water Heater rollout 
  8. Agriculture, food production and forestry Integrated sustainable agricultural production system 
  9. Sustainable consumption and production Industry-specific production methods Industrial production technology changes


Green Economy: A partnership approach

The implementation of South Africa’s Green Economy Strategy is significantly decentralised and includes all levels of government. The role to oversee green economy growth in South Africa is a co-responsibility of the Economic Development Department and Department of Trade and Industry. Other sector departments involved include: