Cosatu: Climate Change Bill a welcome and long overdue intervention

Solly Phetoe is Cosatu’s General Secretary. File: Photo

Solly Phetoe is Cosatu’s General Secretary. File: Photo

Published Apr 29, 2024


By Solly Phetoe

The recent approval by Parliament of the Climate Change Bill signals South Africa’s moving to tackle the greatest threat to life.

On Thursday, the National Council of Provinces concluded parliamentary deliberations on the much-debated Climate Change Bill, with unanimous support.

Its adoption by political parties across Parliament is an important message that parties recognise the damage done to the planet and that life depends upon urgent action by humanity.

Climate change is a real threat to workers, their families, communities and the economy. Its effects are being felt with the pollution in the coal belt of Mpumalanga’s towns and communities, claiming the lives of thousands of workers annually.

We see it with increasing frequency during devastating floods across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal claiming the lives of many and leaving destroyed homes, business and infrastructure.

The residents of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and the Karoo have seen it as these regions experience dwindling supplies of drinkable water.

Rising temperatures, the planting of water-intensive types of non-indigenous crops and the rampant cutting of trees for firewood have seen increasing tracts of land become unable to sustain agricultural production, and in many areas succumbing to desertification.

Research has shown a rise in global temperatures by as little as two degrees will leave large areas no longer able to produce the food we need for life and livelihoods.

The key causes of climate change result from the unsustainable behaviour of humanity and capital’s relentless thirst for profits, at the expense of workers and society’s needs and the sustainability of the planet.

The Climate Change Bill is a welcome and long overdue intervention that provides a balanced approach for South Africa to manage the many crises of climate change and ensure the transitions that are taking place will be just and protect workers, their jobs and communities.

It is a welcome assertion by government, led by the ANC, that we will move collectively as a nation, irrespective of our political diversity, to manage climate change, and do so in a manner that takes all of society along and leaves no person or community behind.

Cosatu engaged extensively on the bill at Nedlac. These were robust engagements, including colleagues from industry and some of its companies with the heaviest carbon footprint in the economy.

We are pleased that workers’ concerns and proposals were accommodated in the bill. These include the need for South Africa’s climate change responses to tackle not only the climate change crises, but also our employment and economic development needs simultaneously.

We have a myriad challenges as a nation, all equally important and urgent. These include a 41% general and 59% youth unemployment rate. A ticking time bomb we dare not ignore.

South Africa remains deeply scarred by the legacies of apartheid and colonial discrimination and dispossession, with some of the world’s most entrenched levels of inequality and poverty.

Working class communities and people across South Africa are witnessing the devastation climate change is bringing to health, the environment, jobs and life itself.

These cannot be tackled separately if we are to ensure a sustainable approach to these challenges.

We cannot adopt an approach by some in industry and the flat earth society that says climate change is a myth and we can ignore it and continue to choke the planet with toxic pollution. The lungs of mine workers and the cancerous pollution across the industrial towns of Mpumalanga are horrifying.

Neither can we afford a fundamentalist approach of some NGOs, who say we should shut down our mines and close our power stations. Such an approach would be tantamount to economic suicide.

What is needed is an approach that moves industry to less pollutive behaviour, faster than its CEOs’ profit margins may prefer, and to reward and incentivise less carbon intensive and harmful economic practices.

Equally, we need to intensify measures to mitigate the damage done to the environment, including cleaning our rivers, recycling water, reforestation and planting of indigenous vegetation and trees.

Most critically is to ensure this journey is a collective one, that is premised upon a Just Transition, that reskills and absorbs workers and does not retrench them; that offers economic opportunities and new businesses to rural communities, not ghost towns; and that accelerates more environmentally-friendly businesses.

The Climate Change Bill provides the foundation for such an approach. It recognises the crises of climate change, the urgency of action, the need to take workers, communities and businesses along with it, to address our triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, to have an inclusive all-of-society approach and to hold parties accountable.

Cosatu’s support for the bill is anchored upon its provisions providing for a coherent, inclusive and progressive collective response to climate change, including:

Establishing the Presidential Climate Commission – that includes organised labour, business, civil society and academia – to help guide South Africa’s climate change responses;

Requiring national, provincial and local government as well as key state-owned enterprises to have climate change plans to reduce and mitigate their footprints;

Establishing provincial and municipal forums for critical stakeholders, including labour, business and communities to participate in the development and implementation of these climate change plans;

Synchronising South Africa’s climate change responses with our carbon tax regime. This is important to maintaining trade relations with the European Union and other key partners where large amounts of our agricultural, manufacturing and mineral exports are sent; and,

Providing for strict penalties for government entities and businesses who fail to comply with environmental and climate change requirements.

Now that Parliament has adopted the bill it will be sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa for his assent.

While the bill lays a progressive foundation for the nation’s response to climate change, it will only achieve its objectives if government resources its organs to implement it.

Equally important is for the private sector to plays its role, adopt less pollutive behaviour and invest in re-skilling and not retrenching workers whose jobs are at risk.

Solly Phetoe is Cosatu’s general secretary