Political parties debate climate change

Political party representatives from left, are Ncedisa Mpemnyama from BLF, Farouk Cassiem from COPE, Jeremy Acton from the Dagga Party, Beverley Shafer from the DA, Jason Sole from the Green Party, Shaheed Mahomed from the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party and Faiez Jacobs from the ANC.

Political parties outlined their plans to address climate change at a public manifesto debate, and while the parties have their own views on this topic, they all agree that something had to be done now, to turn the tide.

With just days to go before the elections, a coalition of environmental and social justice groups and members of the public interrogated political parties on their plans relating to climate change, at the Community House in Salt River on Thursday April 25.

Through the debate, the coalition, which includes the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), Project 90 by 2030, African Climate Reality Project (ACRP), AIDC-One Million Climate Jobs Campaign, 350 Africa, and the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), engaged with political parties.

The debate was centred around a non-partisan analysis – based on a scorecard made by the ACRP’s Action 24 project – of the manifestos of eleven political parties. Questions posed to party representatives covered sustainable and low-carbon energy systems, air quality and health, greenhouse gas emissions and reduction strategies.

DA member and Economic Opportunities and Agriculture MEC Beverley Schafer, said South Africa ranked 128 out of 132 on the Environmental Performance Index.“The index notes with serious concern South Africa’s deteriorating air and water quality, biodiversity, the functioning of eco-systems and the state of our fisheries.”

She said an integrated approach to environmental management was needed across all spheres of society.

“We believe that the protection of the environment goes far beyond conservation. The maintenance of environmental quality – particularly the reduction of water, air and soil pollution, is critical.”

Ms Schafer said the party understood that opportunities for new jobs in the green economy.

Faiez Jacobs from the ANC said society was faced with socio-economic challenges such as poverty, unemployment, inequality – all of which had been exacerbated by climate change.

“How we act now, is also how we are going to deal with the consequences. The poor and the vulnerable are the most acutely affected by climate change,” he said.

Mr Jacobs said climate change and socio-economic issues had to be balanced.

“We have made strides but more needs to be done. Its not an either or situation but a ‘and and’ situation and we need to look at how we balance — the people, planet and also sustainability.”

He said there has been large investments in renewable energy, public transport and programmes that help with climate change such as Working With Wetlands and Working With Fire.

COPE’s Farouk Cassiem said climate change had been 50 years in the making and if swift action was not taken the 12 year window would be too little.

“This should terrify us, especially when we look at what has happened in Mozambique, Durban and China – country after country is witnessing the ravaging effects of climate change.”

Jason Sole from the Green Party said the party had been trying to bring the issue of climate to the fore, since the 1994 elections.

“Most of the words and information we passed on back then, fell on death ears. We have worked with both the DA and the ANC in an attempt to bring some kind of environmental sanity to what is actually going on here.”

Mr Sole said both parties had had their shot at running things but yet the country still found itself at the edge of chaos.

SAFCEI’s Patron, Bishop Geoff Davies said the country needed a government that would prioritise climate change.

“It is important that we have politicians who are aware of the looming environmental challenges. We, the citizens of this country, need to challenge politicians and their parties to embed eco-justice issues in their policies. We need to hold them accountable, because if we do not seek eco-justice for all living things, then we will all suffer increasing injustice and suffering as we scramble for access to the country’s decreasing natural, non-renewable resources.”

SAFCEI’s energy justice coordinator Vainola Makan from Bellville said: “It is important to engage meaningfully with leaders of political parties. Firstly, so that they know what is expected of them with regard to managing issues of energy and environmental justice, and secondly, to ensure they know citizens will hold them accountable.”

Amnesty International general-secretary Kumi Naidoo, who moderated the debate said: “If we continue on the path that we are on with dirty energy coming from oil, coal, nuclear and gas, and by deforestation and other polluting economic activity, the end result is that we lose our soil and our water resources, as we are losing them in many parts of Africa. Sea levels will rise, which will contaminate agricultural lands along the coast. We will not be able to plant food, and we will not have water to drink.”

“We must act now, to protect humanity’s ability to live on this planet. Because, the truth of the matter is, the Earth does not need humankind to survive. We are the ones who need the Earth,” he said.