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It's possible for SA to create 300 000 green jobs
Government, labour, business and civil society joined have joined forces to foster a low carbon economy. Last week they co-signed the Green Accord, committing to a range of measures combating climate change, this in preparation for the upcoming COP 17 conference in Durban from 28 November to 9 December 2011. Glen S. Hodes unpacks what the Green Accord means and the benefits of it.

Q. The Green Accord, apart from other things is aimed at creating at least 300 000 jobs in the new technologies sector within the next ten years. Is this possible? Are jobs in the climate change sector sustainable?

It is possible. But only if government, business, and civil society work together to make it happen. The Green Accord is fully in line with government thinking and a stepping stone toward the more ambitious target embedded in the National Development Plan. This aims to get 11 million South Africans into the job market by 2030.

The Accords echo other objectives recently outlined in the National Climate Change Response white paper, which among other things, aims to build up the country's scientific and research capacity to innovative, adopt, and absorb green technologies. The sustainability of any new jobs created will hinge upon the effective planning for and implementation of these measures. They will also depend upon increasing willingness of all countries in the world to reduce global emissions and to sustain new market mechanisms that have been set up to put a price on externalities such as carbon emissions.

Now more than ever, policy harmonisation and coordination is called for to ensure coherent delivery upon these various strategies and political commitments to effect the green economic transition. The concrete results toward these bigger policy objectives and the poverty impacts that can be achieved through the various sub-components of the plan are what matters most from this landmark agreement.

Q. What kinds of jobs are available for a semi-literate job market?

In the short term, the main source of job creation will come from the installation and maintenance of renewable energy technologies like solar water heaters and solar panels. These labour requirements stem directly from adopting policies and incentives designed to increase the local content of solar, wind and biomass energy technologies being adopted in the country.

To give one example, as a result of the Integrated Energy Resource Plan and Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme, solar energy is anticipated to account for 8.4 GW (or 8400 MW) of all new capacity put onto the power grid by 2030. That represents 42% of new capacity targets for renewable energy. Given Africa's solar resources, it is even envisaged that by 2025, the Continent's solar photovoltaic market will surpass that of Europe.

In the medium-term, agricultural workers also stand to benefit, as bio fuel blending targets are met by the country's major refiners. Investment guarantees and tax incentives encourage green field ethanol and biodiesel projects that can be both environmentally sustainable and pro-poor.

For example, small holders can be engaged to plant sorghum and jatropha on marginal agricultural land. Such projects can not only address greenhouse gas mitigation, but also help the poor to adapt livelihoods to changing economic and climatic conditions.

Greater financial support and capacity building from the international community has widely been acknowledged to be a need for developing a more conducive investment environment as well as the right skills to execute green economy strategies. How those needs get fulfilled (i.e. whether bilaterally or multilaterally, which institutions can access those funds, etc.) is a major element of the Durban climate talks.

The South African government is right to continue its emphasis on ensuring that adequate funding is made available, both domestically and internationally, for not only developing cleaner technologies but also for ensuring their sustainable appropriation in a local context. These measures are essential to ensure that any job creation is sustainable.

A green economy plan should not only be seen as relevant to the G20 countries but also a catalyst for poverty eradication across Africa.

Q. Is a green economy possible and how much is it likely to contribute to the GDP of a country?

The exact contribution of green economy measures to the GDP is difficult to determine in the abstract. That's why UNEP, through its Green Economy Advisory Services, is supporting the South African government to undertake macro-economic modelling work. This assessment work would identify those sectors and industries poised to maximize any return on investment in terms of green job creation and evaluate various measures to engender broad based prosperity that addresses social inequalities and environmental challenges. UNEP has also developed a proposal of activities that will contribute to the development of a South African Green Economy plan, including support for piloting best practice.

With roughly R 25 billion to be invested in domestic initiatives, growth multipliers emanating from the Accords are likely. Compared to other emerging market countries, South Africa has historically offered a good return on investment in general.

A critical challenge that the country has faced, however, is implementing consensus driven policies wherein private sector investments pay off in a way that can also support jobs of quality and skills development. At the same time, climate change could affect almost every sector in South Africa, from agriculture, tourism, trade, transportation, and finance.

As the country moves to diversify its economy and becomes less reliant on coal and mining exports, it can also build the resilience of its economic backbone. In this way, green job creation can also represent just another adaptation mechanism and also ensure that the drivers of GDP become less volatile to exogenous shocks.

Q. What does the Green Accord actually mean to the ordinary man on the street?

Beyond the obvious - building a new pathway for creating more, safer, and increasingly relevant jobs for a more uncertain global future, the Accords take South Africa a step further toward delivering on other critical development goals. For example, the United Nations Secretary General has declared 2012 to be the International Year for Sustainable Energy Access for All.

Recognizing the fundamental contribution that access to modern and affordable energy makes toward ensuring sustainable livelihoods, the UN will marshal new resources and expertise toward achieving the goal of universal sustainable energy access by 2030, as well as improving the efficiency of global energy consumption by 50% and increasing the share of renewable energy to 50%.

Some of the specific objectives and programs that have received a lift with these Accords, such as the target of installing 1 million solar water geysers in the next few years, would represent an important contribution of South Africa toward meeting these objectives. They will extend access in rural and peri-urban communities to clean energy solutions where affordability has traditionally been lacking.

The Solar Academy of Sub Saharan Africa (SASSA) initiative in Nelson Mandela Bay municipality financed by the IDC and Standard Bank is a prime example of how these pieces can potentially all fit together. The program aims to install 200,000 low-pressure solar geysers to low-income households (some 70 000 have already been completed).

SASSA is establishing a local manufacturing plant, thereby ensuring that about 87% of all components are locally sourced and that new jobs are created (an estimated 800 jobs have already been created in the first phase). On top of that, the program has been registered with the UN as eligible for generating carbon credits, which will ensure additional and sustainable resources to effect this transformation and reduce over time the South African's government own level of subsidies.

Q. What business opportunities are available in the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation option?

South Africa needs to foster a culture of "green entrepreneurship" as the new business and investment potential of getting involved in the green economy is enormous. When UNEP started the African Carbon Asset Development Facility (ACAD) at the end of 2009, it wanted to demonstrate to the African business and financial community how to use new green financing tools such as carbon credit trading to unlock new sources of value for themselves, local economies and communities.

In our daily work with financial institutions and green entrepreneurs to facilitate the financing of green investments, we have seen a huge variety of business models that are not only financially sustainable but also can mitigate GHG emissions. For example, in Mali, we supported a local entrepreneur to develop a business model and to access financing linked to expected GHG emission reductions around the manufacturing of a renewable alternative to unsustainable wood fuel and charcoal. The firm, Katene Kadji, manufactures and sells fuel briquettes made from abundant biomass wastes such as rice husks and the invasive typha weed. In this way, entirely new retail markets and distribution chains for cleaner cooking fuels is being developed.

Closer to home, we are currently supporting the development of one of the country's first commercial-scale biogas projects from on-farm animal wastes in Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng, as well as the Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln (VSBK) technology dissemination program designed to transition the country's clay brick sector to more energy efficient fuel processes. The VSBK technology has the promise to halve on-site coal consumption while contributing to safer, healthier environments for semi-skilled workers.

Q. Can you also state where else in the world there are Green Accords and have they been successful or not in those countries? What are the strong and weak points of their Accords?

While a relative latecomer to the party of nations designing action plans for decoupling growth from greater energy and pollution intensities, South Africa's political commitment as manifested by the Accord should be commended. Delinking economic growth from environmental degradation and resource consumption is a pressing global issue facing all societies in the 21st Century. Irrespective of where else in the world accords have been signed, South Africa is the first country on the African continent to sign this type of agreement which goes a long way to set an example for the rest of Africa.

A green economy plan should not only be seen as relevant to the G20 countries but also a catalyst for poverty eradication across Africa since a much larger proportion of GDP and income sources for the poor are linked to the land and natural assets such as freshwaters and forests. Hopefully other African countries, especially the more fossil fuel and carbon-intensive economies such as Nigeria, Angola and Algeria, will see the value of inking similar agreements.

At the same time though, it should be recalled that such accords are not legally binding documents per se, as compared to legislative measures such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed by the US Congress. ARRA pledged to create or save 3.4 million jobs, boost GDP by up to $520 billion, and reduce the unemployment rate up to 1.8% by the middle of 2010.

Legislative actions are by nature more robust and prone to succeed. As a relatively new concept, more time is needed to evaluate the success or failure of any green economy measures - although an increasingly large database of successes is already being compiled under the UNEP Green Economy initiative.

Regardless of mechanism, a transparent reporting and accountability framework matched with clear results indicators needs to be put in place to track progress toward the goal. In this way, government, labour, and civil society can be clear about what needs to be monitored and how to ensure timely delivery.

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