"Address energy poverty in South Africa's climate commitments so that communities can become climate resilient" - SAFCEI

  • Published:

“Address energy poverty in South Africa’s climate commitments so that communities can become climate resilient” – SAFCEI

As South Africa gears up to attend the 28th UN Climate Change Conference – also known as COP28, which will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from 30 November to 12 December 2023 – the South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) says that it is important to have an approach to climate change that centres on those most vulnerable, especially since climate finance will be one of the main items on the COP28 agenda.

The government has just issued a slew of approvals for new fossil fuel projects on the eve of COP28, including gas-to-power Karpowerships in two locations in South Africa, as well as further exploration for oil and gas, and seismic surveys off the coast in numerous places. These projects place our agreed carbon commitments at risk, it appears there is an unconstrained promotion of fossil fuel developments in our offshore waters by our government.

South Africa’s priorities do not end with the financing of mitigation and the basic measures to reduce emissions but also the effects of climate change on communities in terms of adapting to a changing climate, loss and damage relating to climate impacts like floods, droughts and extreme temperatures. As negotiations continue at the conference the Global North and South should not only focus on preventing climate debt but also prioritise the environment, and human wellbeing.

SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis, says “As a southern African civil society organisation we see that people living in energy-poverty are still in the majority, and those most affected have little to no opportunity to prepare for the impact of climate change due to inadequate infrastructure and prevention measures. These need to be given greater priority to the resolutions on climate change in the African context, ensuring that communities are being supported to become climate resilient. As it stands now, almost all African states are ill-prepared to deal with the effects of climate change.”

She says that funds from northern countries that have contributed the most to climate change, to those in the global south who are experiencing the worst impacts, is problematic when it is done through the carbon credit system and loans. Grant funding from big climate change contributors is a key part of climate reparations and the prioritisation of the environment and human wellbeing. According to Bino Makhalanyana, a faith leader and member of the Green Anglicans, “Any climate finance that comes as a loan is a generational curse. If we say yes, then we have caused the problem. Repayment of loans that come in terms of climate finance, will be paid by future generations and not those who make the agreements now.” The academic knowledge available to Africa and the world on climate change, as well as the indigenous knowledge, should be what informs the positions that heads of state take in addressing climate change. However, these seem to be largely ignored.

The observations from COP27, last year, were mingled with what was termed a ‘deliberate systematic exclusion’ where women activists were limited from accessing certain discussions. Activists, who had a list of demands for loss and damages in Africa, could not fully participate and engage at the event. Instead, fossil fuel lobbyists continued to dominate the event, prioritising industrialisation over safeguarding the environment or civil society.

Nkosazana Mrubata, a faith leader and member of SAFCEI’s Rural Action for Climate Resilience project explains that “we are  nature and supposed to care about giving back to nature. The crisis is because we are just grabbing, but nature is just like us: if something is harmful you run away. Even nature does that when we try to harm it… Same as our problems where the government is trying to sell what we have without noticing the damage they are causing. The challenge for faith leaders, ministers is to look after everything that is nature, so that what has been created for us to benefit, we can get it all and it can work for our benefit. The gist is if you take care of this thing it will take care of you.”

The discussion around climate finance will remain lacking if reparations are not addressed adequately. According to Northern countries – who refer to this as finance for loss and damage (L&D) – these are funds which should go to the African countries affected by climate change, due to the industrial activity in the North. While developed states should take historical responsibility for loss and damage in developing countries, African countries also need solid leadership to ensure that those funds go towards capacitating communities to better deal with climate change.

The L&D fund should be accessible to communities without red tape or language barriers. Grassroots communities are still poverty stricken and with limited education, and these circumstances should not hinder access to the help these communities need. Just in South Africa alone, in February 2023, the government declared a national state of disaster when seven out of the nine provinces experienced intensive flooding. The floods in Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Northern Cape, North West, Gauteng and Limpopo caused much devastation, including several fatalities, evacuations and severe damage to infrastructure. The agricultural industry alone suffered over R3bn in losses, not to mention the livelihoods and loss of life.

“This is precisely where the L&D funds should be addressing the damage to infrastructure and personal losses to victims, at the grassroots level. And while the L&D funding can provide recovery funds when disaster strikes, there is so much more to be done to help make communities more climate resilient. Therefore, any intervention designed for developing countries needs to take this into account and recognise that gender, faith and grassroots are critical on Africa’s agenda,” says de Gasparis.

View or download SAFCEI’s COP28 statement here.