So, the 2019 elections are over and the agenda item casting a shadow of concern in the minds of many South Africans is that of jobs. It's a tough ask, especially when a country needs to remain competitive and find the balance between automation and job creation while climate change is threatening to impact how industry and commerce operate.
South Africa has been struggling to overcome challenges in job creation since the first democratic elections in 1994 where the racial imbalance in the workplace needed to be rectified. Today, as jobs and work inevitably change and concerns around creating a low-carbon, high-tech economy grow, how will things play out in South Africa?
South Africa is unique with its complex blend of inequality and unions with unemployment climbing closer to 30% year on year. South Africa also has a hugely carbon-intensive economy coupled with years of unjust labour policies creating a melting pot of job-creation challenges. Built on the backbone of coal and gold mining littered with cheap and migrant labourers, South Africa struggles to release itself from the long claws of an apartheid regime that can still be seen in the rear-view mirror.
South Africa is unique among global countries, even unique in Africa and while the wheel does not necessarily need to be reinvented, innovative and creative job creation strategies are required. The international community provides clues to potential solutions through their policy and social experiments of the past and present. Looking closely at these, the learning curve can be made less vertical.
By 2050, a climate-neutral Europe is envisioned by the European Commission with a German coal exit as soon as 2038. On top of this new coal capacity, plans for the massive economies of China and India have seen drops of 86% and 83% respectively. Does this beg the question of whether there space in the political landscape of South Africa for a greener agenda that challenges us to move forward for economic survival?
South Africa needs a stronger and more decisive leadership that can look beyond current challenges and begin to make a transition towards greener global trends. The 2018 Job Summit saw some welcomed developments in the move to a greener economy in the form of a Framework Agreement and the foundation of the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission. Despite these positive steps it cannot go unnoticed that out of 115 countries, South Africa ranks 114 as the second least prepared country for the implementation of a low-carbon energy transition.
It is obvious then that the road towards a low -carbon, greener future will not be without some tremendous hurdles and challenges. A sense of urgency is, therefore, necessary to immediately begin formulating an integrated approach to meet the head-on challenges that derive from climate change and the inevitable Fourth Industrial Revolution.
It is very easy to talk and plan a way forward but an open and inclusive dialogue between every stakeholder is necessary to ensure the policies and regulations are actually implemented.
The first priority needs to be a way to protect jobs while leveraging automation and technology and simultaneously addressing the challenges posed by climate change and the need for a greener economy. The balance of having access to nature while ensuring workers reap the benefits of social and economic growth is vital for a sustainable future. Finding this balance sooner rather than later will make South Africa a country that is best positioned for growth through being a strong, green trade partner.
President Ramaphosa and his newly elected government need to act decisively to integrate a climate change policy in all sectors of the economy and in every government department. It is essential that policymakers are fully aware of the growing and concerning threats that face humanity, nature and our planet.
It is an inescapable conclusion that climate change, automation and technology will alter the course of our future. The way forward for South Africa would then be to prepare itself for the integration of automation and the reduction of environmental dependency for a favourable future.
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