From the TUC

Notes from Johannesburg: Climate change and green jobs

13 Feb 2013, by in Environment

Here in Johannesburg for an EU-South Africa bilateral meeting on climate change and green jobs, 300,000 new green jobs are promised in the Green Economy Accord. The South African union federation COSATU and business groups have backed government plans that by 2020 renewable energy, a million domestic solar water heaters, building retrofits, recycling, water and waste management promise a new green industrial future.

Yet – and this may sound very familiar – South Africa has already lost opportunities to develop local green industries, for instance,  importing and not making many of its new solar water heaters. Jorge Maia of the Industrial Development Commission told the 100 delegates “we are now making some gains in solar water heaters and wind turbines,” yet these devices could help kick start a continent–wide industry.

Opening the conference, COSATU President Sdumu Dlamini said, “Just Transition underpins our approach to climate change and green jobs.” Rooting his approach in the language of liberation struggle, he said, “We will focus on linking our struggle on climate change to the global struggle with capitalism.” This implies rejecting solutions that were both purely market-based, and which involved pitting workers in one part of the world against those from another.

COSATU’s new report, A just transition to a low carbon and climate resilient economy lays out an understanding of “why we need to inform ourselves about coming and likely climate change.” For instance, the country is shifting from a “water scarce” to a “water stressed” country, with declining rainfall in crucial areas like Lesotho that supply water to cities. Meanwhile, acid mine drainage from disused mines is already poisoning freshwater supplies.

Yet 90% of South Africa’s electricity is produced by burning coal in power stations, while Sasol’s process that turns coal into fuel (inherited from the Apartheid era’s way round the then oil embargo) adds to CO2 emissions. As a result, CO2 emissions of 9 tonnes per person equal the EU, “even though the average living standard is nowhere that of a European.”

Union, government and expert speakers outlined the strategies agreed between government, industry and unions for shifting dependence on fossil fuels in power supply and mineral production from gold, coal and other mining activities.  The government plans to increase the proportion of renewable energy in its energy mix from zero to 9% and the coal share would decrease from 85% to 65%.

The conference so far has identified a number of key challenges:

  • Renewable energy is competing with subsidised fossil fuel energy, particularly coal, where no account is taken of carbon costs.
  • Special “green finance” finance is required to cover the perceived risk of investing in renewable energy technologies.
  • New skills are required to develop install and maintain this technology. But there’s less experience because these technologies are still relatively new.
  • Localisation of production: can SA really put together the means to manufacture rather than import new technology like solar water heaters (SWH)?
  • Local content targets will help drive local jobs, but crucially, setting ambitious volume targets for renewable energy will help support localisation and investment in training.

The government claimed to be resolved to create a robust and self-supporting SWH industry. Commercial banks, insurance companies, and benevolent donors were apparently driving various SWH initiatives in different parts of the country. Yet we were told that “it’s cheaper to import solar water heaters, or components like glass chambers from China.”

In discussions on the side, there were references to carbon capture & storage (CCS) for coal power,  which could add new jobs and skills. The country’s new Medupi coal power station will be 4th largest of its kind in the world and it is claimed that it will be carbon capture ready. However, is this the case? Carbon capture ready (CCR) really means planning the space on site to build capture plant, a pipeline route and an underground or undersea carbon storage site. Did Midupe qualify as capture- ready in these terms?

Speaking for the ETUC, confederal Secretary Judith Kirton-Darling struck a shared note with delegates when she argued that Europe’s austerity measures would deliver neither growth nor a sustainable recovery. Whilst the EU’s emissions were falling now, much is due to the recession, so that any recovery would imply rising emissions. The ETUC’s vision was of an “environmental state, whose functions include sustainable infrastructure, consumption and taxation, underpinned by strong public sector leadership role.”

Judith argued that “jobs must be at the centre of policy.” All sectors shave a role to play and much to contribute. “But precarious work cannot produce sustainable green jobs.” Employment rights and union organisation were essential elements of the trade union approach to climate change.

ETUC delegates from Norway, Spain, Germany and the UK outlined our approaches to greening the workplace, seen by many unions as fundamental to building g membership support from the base to strengthen trade union campaigns for green and decent jobs. Delegates debated questions from the floor like, What do you do if companies wont work with you? Is there any penalty for carbon emissions? “We’re under siege from climate change, but we don’t have the detectors,” another observed.  And, In a recession, can the green economy really  create jobs?

On a personal note, it was great to be at COSATU House, learning how deep runs the shared analysis of union leadership in a changing climate, talking about the magnificent Magor Brewery green workplace, led by Unite. I handed out the TUC’s green workplaces newsletter, and made contacts with the SA NUM mining union, for possible future joint work on carbon capture and storage.

5 Responses to Notes from Johannesburg: Climate change and green jobs

  1. Walton
    Feb 13th 2013, 2:31 pm

    Thanks for this important update – but note the spelling of “Johannesburg”.

  2. John Wood

    John Wood
    Feb 13th 2013, 4:36 pm

    Thanks Walton – blame the sub! (hands up)

  3. Jules
    Feb 14th 2013, 10:20 am

    I hope that one day, South Africa’s development will progress stably…

  4. Ravisons
    Mar 4th 2013, 12:15 pm

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  5. Andy Coleman
    Mar 19th 2013, 11:44 am

    Green and Environment Jobs were heralded as the way forward to help save the earth and to combat climate change, enhance conservation efforts and halt species decline. But just how far have we come in the past 10 years writes Andrew Coleman for

    “There are several studies of the jobs market and the scope for creating a successful career in this field, but is environmental protection a vocation that I would encourage any undergraduate to follow?” (writes Andrew)

    “Until 2008 there was a tremendous growth pretty much all niches of environmentalism. The trend followed a similar pattern to the tech boom, and the current situation is also the same…the ‘bubble burst.”

    “Although there has seen a marginal growth in the years post 2008, growth remains subdued. Previously bouyant areas such as ‘organics’ ‘ecology’ and ‘climate change’ have continued to tread water.”

    “The organic market is predominantly a consumer driven market, and affected by price, customer spend, inflation and employment. In the minority are the organic diehards that will continue to by organic produce irrespective of price and quantity – in favour of a ‘lifestyle decision’. The organic market has nose dived since 2008, but it is my opinion that this will become ‘part and parcel’ of the Fairtrade consumerism and will once again grow. (Fairtrade has not been affected by the global recession but has in fact grown).”

    “Ecology is affected by private sector business and to a lesser extent by public sector pay. Without developments there is little demand for the services of ecology consultancy services. Less demand creates a stagnant job market. There will however, always be a seasonal demand for ecologists.”

    “Climate Change (CC) is affected by both public and private sector spend. But unlike other specialisms, it has been seen to be at the mercy of climate sceptics and conflicting reports about the integrity of climate data. CC is undoubtedly affecting the globe and is integral to many jobs. However, private sector developments, R&D and the resulting increase in the jobs market has not materialised as would have been expected.”

    “…Onto renewables. Renewables are the holy grail. However, it is my opnion that the future for renewables is fusion energy. Fusion energy requires little physical space and creates energy thousands of times higher (per input) than any other form of energy creation (nuclear aside). However, there is little R&D into this potentially planet saving energy resource. It is my belief that solar, wind and wave technology are too unreliable, labour intensive, invasive, costly and ineffective.”

    We are currently collating market data and hope to publish some statistics and trends later in 2013.