The green leap: the opportunity offered to developing countries


The conversation about global climate change has been at the center of attention for the past two months, culminating with the Cop26 summit which took place in Glasgow, Scotland in mid-November. After tense negotiations, a new agreement was signed by world leaders. Post-summit comments ranged from optimism about the progressive steps towards a net zero emissions world and the required “just transition”, to concern about the slow pace of change.

“While we may have made progress… we have to remember that the climate crisis is about time,” environmental activist Greta Thunberg said in a statement. BBC interview, criticizing the slow pace.

Dr Roze Phillips, Executive Director of Value Creation at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), advocates for an urgent shift in the climate change conversation to finally deliver tangible results.

“I am convinced that if we do not elevate the conversation beyond the internal bickering between developing and developed countries to who is to blame, and if we do not focus on the things that are important, we let’s not see any progress, ”Phillips said.

She argues that we should focus on the opportunity for Africa and South Africa, to use the momentum created by the climate crisis and leap over it to become leaders in the green economy. .

“The continent needs employment-based growth and the global focus on energy transition is an opportunity to develop new skills and create jobs, setting a trajectory for the poorest countries to lead. their own skills revolution while strengthening climate resilience, which will be increasingly essential. for sustainable economic growth, ”she said. “If they don’t, the consequences will be dire.”

Phillips says if we don’t act fast enough and act, developing countries will end up with not only stranded assets like coal mines and fossil fuel power plants, but with stranded skills. We will have people trained to do things that are no longer needed.

“South Africa, as one of those countries, plagued by low economic growth and high unemployment, can not afford to waste this climate crisis,” she said.

The future of work – green economy jobs and new skills

According to International Labor Organization (ILO): World Employment and Social Outlook 2018: Greening with jobs, the green economy could create around 24 million new jobs worldwide by 2030, if the right policies are put in place.

South Africa alone would need access to a number of these jobs to cope with an unemployment rate which is climbing to worrying levels.

Data Statistics South Africa shows that the unemployment rate in the country, according to the expanded definition, rose to 44.4% (7.83 million people) in the first quarter of 2021.

Phillips says South Africa and the continent need skills that will be appropriate not only for renewable energy production, but all of the related industries around it: smart renewable agriculture, green infrastructure, green design and manufacturing. .

These are all things that require a new set of skills. While digital literacy is of course essential given the power of digital to accelerate the use of data and the development and implementation of solutions against climate change using, among others, machine learning and artificial intelligence is not enough, says Phillips.

“I also think there are two other skills that should not be underestimated. The first concerns responsible leadership skills – essential for public-private partnerships and creating the right climate finance and policy levers for a green economy, ”she said.

“For that to happen, business and government leaders need training on what to look for and how to develop decision-making frameworks that truly measure and monitor the impact of program choices. durable and unsustainable. “

The second concerns the technical skills required to execute many mitigation programs aimed at achieving carbon neutrality and adaptation programs aimed at building climate resilience, especially in the hardest-hit places and communities, she said. .

The jobs to build a green economy don’t just happen at the level of strategic and digital innovation, she adds. “You also need technical skills, for example to manufacture and manage wind turbines or electric vehicles.

“We will need manpower to build and maintain these parts and infrastructure to the point that we will not only serve ourselves, but will be able to serve the rest of the world as well. “

Being able to focus on the technical and manual skills of working for renewable energy will allow a large part of the population to be integrated into the economy, says Phillips.

Ready, ready, hop

Concerns about the education system in South Africa and whether it prepares young people for employment for the future have been expressed in the past. Phillips says it’s time to realize that we should stop relying solely on this system to provide the skilled labor required.

“We can’t count on just one game. We need public, private and academic partnerships, ”she said, adding that the country has a level of academic research and development prowess that could be harnessed to move from simply creating individual learning organizations to building a society that continuously learns.

Additionally, Phillips says that with the addition of private sector investment to public sector funding, various social enterprises would become viable, led by young entrepreneurs driven by a goal.

“This will raise the water level of our skills base, social development and economic capacity, helping us to achieve our sustainable development goals, as defined by the United Nations Global Compact,” he said. she declared.

Phillips believes that South Africa’s current energy crisis, with load shedding becoming a part of life and regularly disrupting economic activity, could provide the catalyst for the country to take that first leap forward.

“Without electricity, renewable or not, our continent cannot develop and prosper. I think there is now a will on the part of politicians and decision makers. Now that it is not just Eskom’s problem to solve some of our energy challenges and that we are widening the scope for the private sector to become more involved, we are well positioned to become a supplier of renewable energy in the world. continent, ”she said.

Phillips also sees opportunities in other sectors like manufacturing and the financial sector, but stresses that political risk will need to be considered.

“If we can face our political risk and our corruption issues, we can attract more climate finance and impact investment, be a leader in the green revolution, and lift our people out of poverty – but it will take be responsible and responsive. leadership, ”she said.

Presented by the Gordon Institute of Business Sciences (GIBS).

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