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Post Covid economy must be climate resilient: Cyril

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly letter to the nation on Monday that as South Africa rebuilds a “new” economy after Covid-19, that economy will have to withstand the effects of climate change.

The country’s fragile and stagnant economy had been battling before the Covid-19 pandemic made its way to South Africa’s shores, with the government’s protracted and draconian lockdown estimated to have cost three million jobs and billions in lost revenue due to industries and businesses having to shutter permanently or temporarily.

“An important aspect of this new economy is that it must be able to withstand the effects of climate change. A climate-resilient economy is necessary to protect jobs, ensure the sustainability of our industries, preserve our natural resources and ensure food security,” said the President.

He noted while the “dramatic scaling down of human and industrial activity” during the Covid-19 lockdowns had been beneficial to the environment, those activities were now resuming.

“The coronavirus pandemic is devastating, but unless we act now, the impact of climate change on humanity will be catastrophic. Unless we act swiftly to significantly reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, we will be facing one state of disaster after another for many years to come.”

Climate change had long been a measurable reality for South Africans, who had felt its effects through droughts, flooding and rising temperatures, he said.

“But climate change is about much more than changing weather patterns. It impacts on water resources, food security, public health, public infrastructure, ecosystems and biodiversity. It affects the most vulnerable in society, who suffer the effects of extreme weather events and the degradation of ecosystems.

“As we work to reduce our carbon emissions, we have to build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change. It has to be factored into every aspect of government planning: from water use management to the construction of human settlements, from public transport to infrastructure, from disaster management to energy,” he indicated.

It was a “massive challenge”, said Ramaphosa, and why cabinet last week approved the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.

“This strategy will guide one important aspect of our climate change response. In line with our commitments under the Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change, we are moving ahead with both mitigation strategies – to reduce our carbon emissions – and adaptation strategies – to prepare our society for the effects of climate change.

“As the Paris Agreement comes fully into force this year, we are committed to meeting our international responsibilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the key instruments for this, the Climate Change Bill, is currently under consideration in NEDLAC. We will also be establishing the Presidential Climate Change Commission to coordinate our national response and implementing the carbon tax to encourage companies to reduce their emissions.”

Work was already underway in government and in the private sector to respond to climate change, said the president, adding there were “tangible projects” being implemented at national and provincial government level.

In provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape, new low-carbon technologies were being used to power public transport. Thousands of solar water heaters had been installed in public housing. The renewable energy power producer programme played an important role in increasing the contribution of renewable energy to the country’s electricity supply, he pointed out.

Significant advances had also been made in the waste and recycling economies. “Looking ahead, the Hydrogen SA initiative has built local expertise for the hydrogen economy over a decade, with projects under way to support local manufacturing of fuel cell components. This supports the beneficiation of platinum group metals. The hydrogen economy, when linked to renewable energy, can also position South Africa as a global player in the many applications of green hydrogen.

“Climate adaptation can also support infrastructure development and local production. The country can develop its own expertise in areas such as smart grids, e-mobility, smart water and sanitation solutions, ecological infrastructure and broadband connectivity,” said Ramaphosa.

South Africa must resist relegating climate change to the back-burner because it was counting the cost of Covid-19.

He added: “Far from being an ‘added liability’ focused solely on issues of compliance, climate change adaptation is an opportunity to quicken the pace towards a sustainable economy that is just and inclusive.” African News Agency