“I think it is the use of this money which will decide whether we are amplifying future threats to humanity, to our economies, and to our health – or we are mitigating them.”
In Episode 2, we speak to Asad Naqvi (Head of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy Secretariat), Norbert Gorißen (German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety) and Jenitha Badul (Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries for South Africa) to answer these and other key questions as we take the green recovery from soundbite to action.
Asad Naqvi 2:00
Norbert Gorißen 16:16
Jenitha Badul 30:40
Colm Hastings: The start of a new year is often a time for reflection and recalibration. To reflect on the year before us, and recalibrate for the year ahead. And this January, after perhaps the most difficult and challenging year in recent human history, this process takes on an even greater meaning. In 2020, we spoke of the once in a lifetime opportunity that COVID-19 had provided us with – to reimagine and reconstruct our economies in a way that benefits both people and planet. Through debates and discussions we agreed that a green recovery was needed, and defined what this may actually mean.
Colm Hastings: But now in 2021, our focus must change – from talking about what a green recovery is, to implementing it in practice. Meeting the global targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is contingent on us doing so. We must translate protests into policy, and sound bites into action. There is still time to rewrite our future, but the process must start now.
Colm Hastings: My name is Colm Hastings from the Partnership for Action on Green Economy, and this is The Green Renaissance – a monthly podcast series designed to answer the key questions at the heart of the green recovery debate. The stakes have never been higher, so join us once a month as we unpack the complex policy issues that will determine the fates of our economies, our societies, and our planet, for decades to come. Subscribe on Soundcloud, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts, and please give us a rating if you enjoy the series.
Colm Hastings: In this episode, we speak to Asad Naqvi, Head of the Secretariat for the Partnership for Action on Green Economy, Norbert Gorißen of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, and Jenitha Badul from the South African Department for the Environment, to outline what a green recovery looks like in practice. We ask them how countries have been approaching the challenge so far, what policies we can look to for inspiration, and what lessons we can draw from the past.
Colm Hastings: So to begin with we speak to Asad Naqvi, who has been the Head of the Secretariat of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy for the past six years. Asad leads the agency’s work to support partner countries in policymaking, capacity building and financing for inclusive green economy transitions, and here he talks about the similarities between the green economy and the green recovery agendas.
Asad Naqvi: If we look around at the world, we clearly see a few trends. We see a warming planet. And as everyone knows that out of the last 20 years, 15 have been the hottest recorded years in history. We also see an increasing erosion of the ecological foundations of economies and life on this planet. And one indicator of that that came out recently is that one million species are under threat of extinction.
Asad Naqvi: We also see unprecedented and still worsening economic inequalities. 8 per cent having more wealth than the combined wealth of 3.5 billion poor people. And it is still increasing. We see that the ecological footprint of our lifestyles and our economies has already exceeded the capacity of planet Earth, and it’s still growing. And now we see increasing and intensive waves of zoonotic diseases. The current one has opened the eyes of the world, but if you look at all these crises that we are seeing around, I think one thing is very clear, which is that it has a common root cause and they are all connected. And that root cause is that the way our economies are framed, how our national development planning is framed, how our regulatory mechanisms for global financial systems are framed. They are not fit for delivering sustainable development.
Asad Naqvi: A development path which is inclusive, which is sustainable on the environmental side, and which is robust on the economy side. Because the key focus of our economies has been to generate more financial capital and more growth. And that was the root cause that we were trying to highlight in 2008 that, you know, whatever we see as environmental, social crises is a symptom of an economy which is unfit for the purpose. And that’s where the concept of green economy basically emerged, which very clearly stated that, you know, we need to repurpose the economy.
Asad Naqvi: The green economy concept was that it’s an economy in which, and I will say it slowly – growth of income and jobs is driven by investments and policies of addressing social and sustainability challenges. So you see it’s a complete repurposing of the economy, which is needed. We need to set an objective for the economy. And that objective is that we address social inequality issues and environmental sustainability challenges while creating jobs, while creating growth opportunities, and living within the planetary boundaries of the Earth.
Asad Naqvi: The crisis has given us an opportunity. The COVID crisis has given us an opportunity to apply this concept because many countries are almost restarting their economies. And then just in the form of the economic recovery packages. We have more money on the table in these countries, which is more than what is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. I think it is the use of this money, which will decide whether we are amplifying future threats to humanity, to our economies and our health, or we are mitigating them. And that’s why we feel that the recovery process, its policies, its investment decisions, are very critical.
Colm Hastings: I also wanted to talk to you about your experience with PAGE working closely with governments throughout the course of the pandemic so far. You’ve just said there that ultimately it is the policy and investment decisions of countries themselves that are going to decide how we recover from this pandemic, and do you think countries are now recognizing this? And do you think the pandemic has strengthened the case in many ways for a green economy?
Asad Naqvi: I feel that, you know, the pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity, which probably would not even have been possible or conceivable that you can reset your economies now. And that’s what we see when as PAGE we are working with the governments. We see that, you know, the political awareness is there and political commitment is there. We have seen extremely positive, encouraging and inspiring ideas coming from our partner countries. So PAGE is working with 20 partner countries and we see that, you know, in each one of them there are ideas which are coming forward.
Asad Naqvi: That’s the one side – the second side is that we are also seeing that there are other partner countries for PAGE who are providing us support, which are our funding partners. We have eight funding partners. So Germany is one of the funding partners, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, European Union, Korea, United Arab Emirates. And we see that, you know, not only that there is a very positive response to green recovery by our partner countries, to whom we support. But also there is a very positive response from those countries who support PAGE.
Asad Naqvi: But then there is a third way, which is also important to look at that, how do we incentivize the countries? So as I mentioned the awareness is there, the desire is there, and we feel that the commitment of the government is there. But there are missing ingredients that we need to bring in. And some of those are fairly clear. Number one, I think capacity is an issue in many countries. And that’s where I think PAGE, especially through UNITAR has been supporting on building capacity for green recovery. This podcast series is definitely part of it, but more than that, you know, there is a whole Learning for Green Recovery program that was launched. And that offers capacity building support on six key areas.
Asad Naqvi: The other area where we can really need to pay more attention is debt servicing. I think many of our partner countries have raised this issue. That because of the pandemic and its economic impacts, their fiscal space has shrunk. There will be a negative GDP growth globally. And in some countries it is up to 30 per cent economic contraction. And then debt servicing at the same time while you have to invest in revival of your economy, is a difficult one. I think we need to find at the global level a solution that can either create mechanisms for debt to green recovery swap, or find another way of relaxing the debt burden of these countries, or at least the payment scheduling of those countries. So that will give a huge incentive.
Asad Naqvi: The other is the access to technologies. I think trade can play a big role and incentivize it, if we can have easier and cheaper trade in environmental goods and services that can help with the recovery efforts – that will play a big role. And then the last one is just sharing the best experiences from the world on policy innovation. There are many countries who have created these climate cabinets in the recovery process, which brings ministries of economies, finance, industrial production, employment, environment together to find a way that is winning or all of these sectors. So I think if we have those ingredients which are missing, that will incentivize this effort for greening of the economy and PAGE is playing its humble role in this effort but the challenge is much bigger.
Colm Hastings: I guess that forms part of my next question in terms of how we maintain now the momentum that has been built over the past six or 12 months, and really take advantage as you said of the opportunity that is now in front of us. And that includes I guess learning from the lessons and the mistakes that were perhaps made after 2008. From your point of view, what are really the most important steps in terms of maintaining this momentum moving forwards into 2021 and then finally into the Decade of Action?
Asad Naqvi: I’m very hopeful. I feel that the enabling environment is much better than the 2008 crisis. We have better access to financial resources. We have better access to innovations. We have better access to partnerships. So that gives me a lot of hope. But also at the same time, we wouldn’t say that, you know, all the challenges have been tackled. I think what we should not repeat, or what the world should not repeat, is exactly what you said – is the follow-up of the 2008 crisis. That soon after the financial crisis was over, the whole financial sector went back into the same behaviour. And that has probably contributed to the current crisis, I would say.
Asad Naqvi: So I think we need to learn a lesson, and that is a difficult part in human history, that we have not learned the lesson from the previous crisis. We have to learn a clear lesson that number one, business as usual is not an option in a word of increasing inequality, increasing environmental insecurity, and increasing difficulties for division between humans. We need a new thinking on that one. If I can use the words from the Einstein – we cannot solve a problem with the same type of thinking which created the problem. The challenge is that still there is an appetite that, you know, we will go back to the same economy and probably be able to solve it. Unless the economy is completely repurposed, we will continue to have these type of challenges, problems, pandemics, and economic and financial crises in the future.
Asad Naqvi: I think for maintaining the momentum, it’s an unprecedented leadership that the U.N. Secretary-General currently is offering. And I think we have to align our global policymaking, our global public and policy debates with that message. That the climate change goals are achievable now, they are within reach. We need a bit more ambition and really action on those ambitions. Number two, we need to translate that into national policy and development planning processes. And when I say that we need to take it to national policy, I would say national economic policy and development planning.
Asad Naqvi: The solutions for the global environmental sustainability are not with the environmental policy response. They are with the economic policy response. They are with the development planning policy response. And they are with the regulatory framework for the global financial system response. If we have those three things really continued after the crisis, not in isolation, but really together in one coherent package, I think we will be able to maintain the momentum. If we don’t do that, if we feel that, okay, you know, the financial system can go back to its previous behaviour, while we keep making an effort even on the green jobs front, or on the climate front in individuality, it will be more difficult. It will be longer, and the longer it gets the cost will continue to increase of solving the problem.
Colm Hastings: Are there any policy lessons that we can take from the global response to COVID-19 so far? Have there been any actions or movements by countries that have particularly inspired you, or that the rest of the world can look towards for inspiration in this regard?
Asad Naqvi: Many, and everywhere, and at varying levels and varying scales. You know, the Green New Deal of the European Union is something the world can look at because, and I emphasize that, that it’s not their climate change policy and it’s not their environmental sustainability policy. The Green New Deal of the EU is their growth and employment strategy. So it shows the world that how greening the economy can create jobs – more, better and secure jobs – as well as economic growth opportunities. How it makes your economy more competitive.
Asad Naqvi: Similarly, you can look at Korea’s Green New Deal, which is their economic recovery plan from the pandemic, but with the clear target of carbon neutrality by 2050. We can also look at China which, you know, was not considered very green in terms of its economy, but they have clearly set a target that by 2060, they want to reduce the material carbon and energy footprint of their economies, I think by up to 65 per cent. Just on 15th of December 2020, PAGE hosted a very high level dialogue in Argentina on green recovery, and the focus is on job creation through just transition for a sustainable recovery. So they are taking their own pathway. South Africa is taking its own pathway, where President Ramaphosa is committed to a green recovery. So there are many examples. There are many institutional frameworks, there are many processes, there are many templates now have been created, which countries can look for. And that is really inspiring.
Asad Naqvi: The last thing I would say, which is really hopeful is our youth. I think my biggest hope comes from our youth, which is not only talking about these issues, but I think they are taking really action. It’s very personal, but you know, my son has stopped eating beef purely because of its impact on the planet. And I see that in many of his friends and class fellows, that they are not only talking about the issues. They are really taking action and, you know, the Fridays for Future campaign, and all those associated movements around the world have really created a huge difference in how things will happen in the future. So I’m very positive. I’m very optimistic. And I feel that while the challenges are there and some countries will take longer than the others, eventually there is a clear awareness that this is the right way forward.
Colm Hastings: Next we speak to Norbert Gorißen, who is the Deputy Director General for International Policy at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Here Norbert talks about some of the key considerations that informed the design of Germany’s economic recovery package – described as being the world’s “greenest stimulus plan”.
Norbert Gorißen: I think even for us it was a surprisingly good outcome what we achieved, because I think what we have to keep in mind is that there is a precedent, which was the stimulus package after the financial crisis 2008, 2009. And at that time we had a stimulus package which was not at all that green as the one we have right now. In particular one area needs to be spelled out because everybody not only in Germany, but also internationally was looking at what would we do with how to promote the car industry. And in the previous stimulus package, we simply had a wreckage scheme which provided incentives for buying new cars with no environmental strings and requests around it. This time this could have been avoided. Although the car manufacturers and some politicians were lobbying like hell to get that through.
Norbert Gorißen: The understanding in the German government and in the society, but also in the media, that this pandemic also demonstrates to us that there is a bigger issue than just an economic problem. It’s really about how to recover from that and learn from where we are, and we were surprised that it was possible to put the environmental and sustainability considerations in this debate from the very beginning on. So the promotion of a low-carbon energy and transport sector, the promotion of more digitalization, of a better health and education system, were starting points of the debate. And that was the reason why we could achieve such a good balance in the package, and could at the same time demonstrate what it means to recover in a better and greener way, and just way, and to be in line with the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs.
Norbert Gorißen: The stimulus package which we have agreed upon here in Germany, which was adopted, builds very well on the discussions we had in the year before in 2019, when climate was high on the agenda. And after heavy debate the Climate Action Programme 2030 was eventually concluded. And on that basis we were able not to give up what we’d achieved, but rather use the recovery funding for doing more in this direction.
Colm Hastings: I read an interesting quote yesterday evening, which stated that while the COVID-19 virus does not discriminate, our societies still do in so many ways, and I think over the past 12 months it has certainly sharpened the disparities both within and between countries. With this in mind, how has Germany ensured that – as well as being green – that its recovery is both just and inclusive, and also aligns with other socio-economic needs and priorities?
Norbert Gorißen: The reason why this was taken up from the very beginning was because the impression of, I think the full society and also the political decision makers, was that this crisis is not just an economic crisis, like the one we had after the financial crisis. It is really demonstrating to everybody, to every single citizen the consequences of what it means if you have a socially stable society, and also a state which protects people when it comes to social issues, but also when it comes to health issues. So therefore the term resilience is to me an absolutely key term, when you talk about recovery, because that describes very well what needs to be done. We need to be more resilient when we come out of this crisis – economically, socially, with respect to health, but also ecologically.
Norbert Gorißen: So from that more holistic understanding, it was clear that the recovery has to look at all the various components. In particular, also how to be as just, as inclusive as possible. And I mentioned one of the programs that we are very proud of as the Ministry for Environment, which is a support program for social services. So people who are working with the elderly, with people who are disabled etc. They’re driving around with their small cars to help them every day. And we set up a program that the cars which are used by those people, by those service providers, will become electric. They do short distances, but they provide social services.
Norbert Gorißen: It is by far not obvious that you address the environmental side at all at that beginning. I think that was the big surprise for us. It was clear that the economy and social consequences would be taken care of, but the emerging understanding, maybe from the discussion we had in the year before, was that we also need to address the climate crisis. And also because people saw that with the lockdown, life in cities have calmed down. And that was not only negative. They could see the benefits of having calmer, cleaner waters and cities. More space for biking and walking, that another quality of life could be achieved. And I think in that understanding, it was more easy to put a clear focus on a green recovery.
Colm Hastings: Is there an element of leading by example with Germany’s own recovery package? To what extent do you think, for example, the steps that Germany has taken at home, are relevant for other countries – for instance emerging economies. Do you think that can still play a role, as well as the technical guidance and the investments, in incentivizing other countries and governments to pursue a green recovery themselves?
Norbert Gorißen: I would not overstretch that argument by leading by example. I think to some extent we try to do that, but I already said our package is by no means perfect. And if you look internationally, you can also see there are many countries who have gone in a similar direction, many EU countries, at least the EU as a whole. You can also see some other countries, you mentioned already Korea, working in this direction. Of course it had an impact on how Korea, Japan and then eventually China looked at their decarbonizations. But having said that I think it’s also important to look at the full picture on the international level.
Norbert Gorißen: I find the Finance for Biodiversity Initiative very interesting, because as part of this initiative – which is completely privately financed – there was the Greenness of Stimulus Index developed by Vivid Economics, a consultancy in London. And if you look at that, you can clearly see that 16 out of the 20 G20 countries are more on the brown side than on the green side with their recovery programs. There’s a lot of money still directed towards old technologies and industries, and the big danger is that we will lock in infrastructures, behaviours and technologies which are not fit for fit for the future.
Norbert Gorißen: One of the big problems is developing countries, and I’m not speaking about the more emerging economies in the G20, but on the poor or the middle-income countries. We also could see an emerging debt crisis, the capital flow through the countries. The economies were shrinking, the exchange rates were deteriorating. Remittances are not flowing any longer. A lot of people unemployed. So the fiscal space for many developing countries to provide the essential services, social and health services, to their citizens were simply not there. And that is an area where, when we look at our big recovery programs and stimulus programs, we have to acknowledge that many developing countries – most developing countries – by far do not have the fiscal space to do the same.
Norbert Gorißen: So therefore leading by example is not the right way if you talk to developing countries, they simply don’t have the fiscal space. I think we need to think about, on a global level in 2021, how we can avoid an emerging or an increasing debt crisis and how we can assist developing countries through the international financial institutions, and through our bilateral channels in a way that they are not overstretched by additional debt. And that they are able also to recover in a better way. So the game is not over. As we all are still in lockdown, we still don’t know exactly what the overall consequence of that crisis economically, socially and environmentally will be.
Colm Hastings: Has the global economic response to the pandemic over the past 12 months made you more or less optimistic that the world is making the necessary steps in the right direction? Are you hopeful for the future?
Norbert Gorißen: Yes I’m optimistic because I’m expecting that with the Biden Administration we will have a very strong partner and looking at the G7, you know last year the U.S. had the G7 Presidency, and actually there was no or very little outcome of that. There was no Summit at all. This year the U.K. holds the G7 Presidency, and we will have a completely changed political situation in the U.S. The outcome could be that all the G7 countries could commit to net zero by 2050, that’s not unlikely. That could then be perhaps a good first step towards the G20. Italy will hold the G20 Presidency this year, and building on hopefully a very ambitious outcome of the G7 I think they perhaps can also pursue more activity in the G20. I mentioned G7 and G20 because both formats have not delivered what they could potentially deliver over the last years during the Trump Administration. I think that is a big opportunity we have ahead of us this year.
Norbert Gorißen: And then we have two very important COPs. One on biodiversity in China, so that puts also China on the spot to be a global leader also in that area. And then in November we hopefully will be able to physically meet in Glasgow for COP26, when the world has to demonstrate that the Paris Agreement is working, that we are able to provide more ambition with a round of updated NDCs putting us on a pathway which is closer to 1.5 than we are right now. Putting pressure on everybody who has not yet committed to ambitious 2030 and 2050 plans, plus coming up with a package of solidarity with the poorer countries, both for adaptation, resilience, and assist them in recovering in a better way. Those four elements I see as central for 2021 and in general, I’m optimistic knowing the countries leading on that, that we can achieve a lot to put us on a better pathway.
Colm Hastings: You mentioned at the start that it was a surprise in many ways that Germany was able to be so ambitious with its green recovery package. So what enabling factors and conditions do you think have allowed Germany to make different decisions this time around?
Norbert Gorißen: I would like to mention here also the youth movement, Friday’s for Futures. They emerged in late 2018, 2019, and they pushed the political agenda, political opinions, the media, and eventually also the politicians strongly. So they pushed for instance strongly on a meaningful outcome of the coal phase-out plan for Germany that was in January 2019. And I think they pushed a lot on the European agenda. So the EU elections in 2019 were very important. The turnout was much bigger than expected. Many votes for the Greens. So I think the public debate in Germany stimulated a lot by the youth. I don’t think one can undervalue that.
Norbert Gorißen: Meanwhile we have also enterprises, companies who have understood that the future will be different. Are now working towards implementing ambitious, company-owned targets. And they are supporting now also ambitious climate targets from the Ministry for Environment. I could also mention the financial sector, which moved a lot. So the disclosure was a starting point to understand, to what extent the financial sector is involved in climate-related investments, which could be positive or negative. So that was the first point to really demonstrate what the risk is if you continue to invest in fossil investments.
Norbert Gorißen: And the next point then is divestment. So to go out of these investments, which are pro-fossil. On the EU side we had an action plan of sustainable finance, which included a number of clear rules and regulation. We are now discussing the taxonomy, which will define what is a green and what is a grey and what is a brown bond divestment. So the understanding in the financial sector at large – in Germany, and in Europe and globally – is emerging very strongly that continuing to invest in the old structures and investment is a big risk. And so they also now started to advocate to do it differently, and they played their role also when the recovery packages were crafted and developed.
Colm Hastings: What has the public response been to the recovery package. Have they generally been in favour of the measures that Germany has announced, or do they even think that Germany could go further?
Norbert Gorißen: I think in general the package was well received. Of course you always have people who are not lucky with that, and who are criticizing that from different perspectives. But in general I think it was well received. And I come back to the point I made in the beginning of this interview, which is what we did with our car manufacturers. So the car industry in Germany is absolutely critical, and it’s iconic for the industry in Germany. And people think we have a relationship to our cars like some U.S. guys have with their guns. So therefore the way how we deal with the car industry, is not always rational. And from that basis the car industry had a lot of influence on the politics, and it was the case certainly after the financial crisis in 2009.
Norbert Gorißen: This time this was avoided. And I think that is something which was a big achievement. Actually the greenest element of the German recovery program is the one which was not there, which was not included, which was a general let’s say stimulus program for buying more cars, whatever kind of qualities the cars have. That was the expectation of many people in the public. Yes, of course, the car manufacturers supported by the Unions. So many people employed, their influence, and entangled with the politics, they would in the end come up again with a big support program for any kind of additional cars being sold to people. That didn’t happen, and that this didn’t happen was I think the biggest surprise and the greenest element in the recovery package.
Colm Hastings: And finally Jenitha Badul. Senior Policy Advisor in the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and Chair of the PAGE National Steering Committee in South Africa. Here she discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the development agenda within the country.
Jenitha Badul: It’s definitely accelerated some of the existing challenges that the country has been experiencing around poverty, issues of poverty. Unemployment, high unemployment rate amongst the youth as well as with graduates coming out of University or a Tertiary Institution, not necessarily being able to secure a job. Secondly, the pandemic has basically widened that gap of inequality in the country. We’ve had, as of September, the official figures that were provided by Statistics SA indicated that we’ve shed more than 2.2 million jobs. And this was as a result of the pandemic, not necessarily the existing numbers on unemployment in the country. So it’s just, you know, exacerbated the problem which we were experienced prior to this.
Jenitha Badul: And the recent announcement by Moody’s, as well as Fitch, indicating that they are now further downgrading South Africa, from an economic perspective it just creates more problems for the country. From a borrowing perspective, obviously taking on these loans from the IMF is going to cost the country much more. We’ve acknowledged the issue of unemployment, inequality and poverty levels in the country for a long time. It’s been something that the public sector has been addressing on an ongoing basis, but the pandemic has really pushed back all of the efforts that we put in place over the years. And it becomes more difficult to try and gain that momentum again. Jenitha Badul: It’s also pointed to certain gaps within the system. So for example, if you look at the public schools with regard to the extent of reach for a virtual platform and still reaching out to learners during the lockdown. This has been a challenge and going forward, it also then helps to prepare the country as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Especially developing countries have been taking baby steps in that direction – ensuring that ICT connectivity issues are you know, up to standard.
Jenitha Badul: Likewise with the MSMEs, if you look at the platforms on which they operate, many of them are not necessarily virtually applicable, and this has allowed them to think out of the box and think about, okay – how do we still make ourselves relevant in the space? The lockdown has pointed to a shutdown of our businesses, and how is it that we’re able to function virtually? So this migration from a physical world into a virtual world is basically what we are seeing. But it is an inclusive approach that needs to be taken. All of these issues have to be addressed, and it’s not necessarily a health issue as was initially realized.
Colm Hastings: President Ramaphosa stated that despite all of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, it now presents the country with the opportunity to transform and restructure its economy. So what can a green recovery potentially look like in South Africa?
Jenitha Badul: Obviously we find ourselves as a country in transition. We are never going to reach a point where we are completely green. There are going to be certain brown elements in the sector, or within sectors itself. And you’re not going to be able to remove that. The advantage of embracing it now, especially with bulk infrastructure for example, is to bring in those green elements that ensures that buildings are more resilient, for example. And within the public sector itself it does have purchasing power. It’s also responsible for bulk infrastructure development, and therefore it can bring in these requirements, you know, during the procurement process. And ensure that in the medium- to long-term, we are not locking-in carbon as has been experienced previously with developed countries, as well as during the post-recovery period from the global economic meltdown between 2008 and 2012.
Jenitha Badul: So one of the key things that definitely cushioned the blow in South Africa itself during that period was that we were preparing for the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. And as a result, we had a lot of infrastructure development activities taking place in the country. So much of the jobs at that time were provided through these activities that were taking place, in the different provinces and the host cities that we’re preparing to host the event. So likewise, going forward, moving with this Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, part of it is informed by bulk infrastructure development.
Jenitha Badul: Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily or exclusively a public effort on its own. It has to happen as an inclusive process that also brings on board the private sector, and ensures that you know we are able to find these meaningful solutions, and be able to realize where we would like to see the country in the medium-to long-term, as a collective. I think globally across the world, we’ve been seeing for example the relationship between climate change and the impact that it’s had, especially in developing countries or least developing countries, when it comes to the issue of energy security, food security. So it also links very well to the issues of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Jenitha Badul: The developmental agenda in South Africa tends to touch on very closely with the SDGs, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation issues. Moving forward the pandemic provides an opportunity to reflect on it and indicate – okay, can we actually accelerate this, become more ambitious in our targets. or can we afford to do that because now we have more pressing issues on the socio-economic needs, you know, within the country itself. And how do we advance that.
Colm Hastings: So you’ve referred just there to the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, which sets out the immediate actions to support a rapid economic rebound from COVID-19. This plan has been described as being green and sustainable. What are some of the key elements that it contains, and what are some of the priority areas that it looks to focus on?
Jenitha Badul: There’s been a lot of lead work, you know, getting to this point wherein our President, President Ramaphosa, announced the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. And certainly a lot of consultation that went into the process. The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan definitely provides some hope for the country in ensuring that we are on a part that will take us out of this current situation that we find ourselves in. And I think the good news is that many elements which inform the plan are definitely linked to a green economy and recovery.
Jenitha Badul: It takes into consideration advancing the renewable energy program, procurement program, which started a few years ago in the country and was commended globally for the way in which the procurement processes were run. In this case with the REIPPP program, one of the key things was to also bring in the local players, especially the financing institutions. So whilst the renewable energy program has attracted a lot of foreign investment, going forward it also provides room for the local finance houses to also play a key role in providing the necessary finances.
Jenitha Badul: Over and above that energy efficiency is certainly on the agenda as well. It is a quick-win and can be something that is implemented. We’ve had the National Cleaner Production Centre that has been doing some good work over the years, with industry itself targeting energy efficiency, as well as water efficiency measures. And there’s been good progress in that regard – the textile industry has been another emerging sector which the National Cleaner Production Centre has been giving focus to.
Jenitha Badul: The just transition has definitely been at the forefront of our agenda and we’ve been working, as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, we’ve been working through the climate change branch as well as our external partners. So one of the key pieces of work that has come out through the initial activities that we undertook was the National Employment Vulnerability Assessment, and this particular work focused on specific sectors. Key amongst it is definitely the coal value chain, and how does the country actually transition away from its dependence on coal as a source to generate energy for the country. Given the fact that we are a developing country, and industrialization is obviously key to increasing the economic growth in the country itself.
Jenitha Badul: So the just transition program subsequently has also produced sector joint resilience master plans. Recently the President, together with our Minister also announced the establishment of the Presidential Coordinating Committee on Climate Change. So this particular Committee will be providing some oversight on these joint resilience plans, on you know – what are the key issues that need to be addressed up-front? What are the trade-offs? Can we leave no one behind? Is that a reality, I mean you are going to have a situation where certain employees may not be able to transition into another job space. So what would be the outcome as a result of that?
Jenitha Badul: You’re never going to have a situation where it is a win-win situation completely. You will have a challenge or you will be experienced or confronted with the situation wherein people will have to be laid-off. This work is still premature, it’s still being undertaken. And the resilience plans that have been put in place for those sectors are still under discussion. It still needs to be consulted as well with organized labour and organized business as well.
Colm Hastings: How does South Africa prioritize its investments in the sectors that it supports? And to what extent is it influenced or directed by policy developments in other parts of the world?
Jenitha Badul: I think the more important question here is, you know, what has been done, how proactive has South Africa been during this lockdown period. And you know, what are the opportunities as a result of the spin-offs coming out of the lockdown itself. What I would want to commend the public sector on is just last week we hosted the Investment Summit. And this has been a few years in the making now, wherein the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition has been in the lead together with the Presidency, reaching out to both the private sector as well as potential investors to invest in South Africa and identifying these opportunities as well.
Jenitha Badul: Attracting investment is a challenge, given the fact that many countries have been introspecting on, okay, what is it that we need to prioritize first and foremost for the people of our countries. And as a result there’s been this call for a unified position, or finding solidarity on action that’s required. And obviously this also increases the divide between developed and developing countries, wherein developed countries are able to provide the necessary resources that go hand in hand with addressing the pandemic – whereas with developing countries or least developing countries, we start with the challenge of juggling these priorities and having the pandemic as an overlay over and above the existing situations.
Jenitha Badul: How is it that we bring in fresh new money into this process to actually help to get out of it? And it cannot be done alone with the public sector investing in the space. The public sector has to reach out to the private sector as well as potential external investors outside of the country. Specifically on the New Green Deal there’s been a lot of alignment with regard to the green economy taxonomy work that has been taking place between South Africa as well as the EU, because the EU started with spearheading this process. And the one key reason around it is so that if we have potential investors who are obviously outside of the country, they should be able to identify like with like. And therefore that is how the work that developed countries, for example, undertake has to align to what we are also undertaking in South Africa itself. So the relevance is definitely found there.
Jenitha Badul: The advantage that the EU had with the Green New Deal has been around the fact that they started this process like almost two years ago, or three years ago. So it’s been in the making quite some time. And as a result, with the pandemic it’s able to position itself quite positively and firmly in providing the stimulus packages that it did provide. Over and above that, the EU has been one of our key trade partners. And obviously what’s happening in the EU impacts on us from that perspective as well. So if we have to ensure that we are still relevant in the bigger scheme of things, especially when it comes to exports, we have to take into consideration what the export partners needs are, and ensure that the commodities coming out of South Africa are also meeting those requirements. So invariably policies that happen outside of the country do influence what happens within the country as well.
Colm Hastings: That was The Green Renaissance. Please subscribe on Soundcloud, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts to receive new episodes each month. Also don’t forget to give us a rating if you enjoy the series, and if you’d like to learn more about the green recovery, the Partnership for Action on Green Economy has developed a series of e-learning courses on key green recovery topics. Just visit www.unccelearn.org, and enrol for free today. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you soon.