Powerful forces are driving a green economic revolution worldwide, providing in the process a strong lever for broad-based economic development in many parts of the globe, and often reorienting national development trajectories.
South Africa, having one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world, is no exception. Its national government is strongly committed to unleashing the potential of the green economy. This is clearly spelt out in the ‘New Growth Path’2 strategy document, which classifies the green economy as one of the ten ‘jobs drivers’. The ‘Industrial Policy Action Plan’3 in turn, encompasses strategic initiatives to develop green industries and to improve energy efficiencies. More recently, the ‘National Climate Change Response Strategy’ white paper highlighted a set of near term flagship programmes that underline the progressive transition towards a greener economy4.
Importantly, the window of opportunity is quite limited and the international environment is increasingly competitive. This indicates a degree of urgency if South Africa is to succeed in the localisation drive.
For instance, globally the country has one of the best solar resources, complemented by significant wind energy potential in certain areas, providing a strong basis for the roll-out of these relatively mature technologies. Furthermore, other forms of energy generation are also proving quite attractive, with the biofuels and biogas industries fast evolving to supplement the supply mix. South Africa is also facing serious challenges with respect to the conservation of its scarce water and soil resources, the proper management of which will provide opportunities for development and employment creation.
A greening economy should result in expansions of productive capacity and service delivery across a wide spectrum of economic sectors, although contractions may be experienced in others. This should be progressively supported by investment activity and result in meaningful employment creation. A growing green economy should also translate into opportunities for the localisation of production, either through the utilisation of existing production capabilities, or the establishment of new capacity.
As businesses, households and state agencies progressively adopt cleaner and more sustainable operating models due to public pressure, cost considerations and evident opportunities, the sustainability of a greener growth and development path should be increasingly safeguarded.