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Deputy Minister Ms Makhotso Sotyu’s welcoming address to the online Sustainability Summit 2020

1 - 3 December 2020

Despite the joy of reduced lockdown restrictions and the celebration of at least 3 possible vaccines being made ready for global rollout, I am sure that I don’t need to remind anyone here that we are very far from being out of the COVID-19 woods.

COVID-19 has changed everything and there is little chance of us ever returning fully to ‘the old normal’.

However, despite the global tragedy of COVID, we also know that ‘the old normal’ was also the normal that: led to the climate crises; that led to wildlife trade or practices that gave rise to diseases like COVID-19; to our rivers and oceans being chocked by plastics; and the increasingly rapid extinction of species. From a sustainability point of view, ‘the old normal’ needed more than one Earth to satisfy our consumption.

So perhaps a return to the old normal is not the most desirable outcome of our COVID-19 recovery.

Indeed, the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan recognises that the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to address long-term structural deficiencies in the South African economy and place the economy on a new path to growth and job creation. In this regard, reconstruction from COVID-19 should be seen not in terms of a return to what was, but in terms of transformation to what is next.

While the COVID-19 global pandemic is a crisis of unprecedented scale, it is also a represents a turning point – an opportunity to embrace and drive fundamental and lasting change.

Our new growth story will rely on substantial investments in infrastructure, including in energy, telecommunications, ports and rail. It will be propelled by swift reforms to unleash latent potential, supported by an efficient state that is committed to clean governance. It will be inclusive, digital, green and sustainable, and it will invest in our human capital to lay the foundations for the future.

In this new growth story, the Green Economy is one of the eight priority interventions for economic recovery.

Green industrialisation and a green future is an important intervention not only in addressing the persistent challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment, but also in offering a sustainable solution to climate vulnerability and driving economic competitiveness. Green industrialisation also guarantees the security of energy, food, water and electricity supply.

Turning to the topic of this first session of the Summit – Sustainable Cities – the implementation of the Reconstruction and Recovery Plan will expand the programme to retrofit public and private buildings with measures to improve energy and water efficiency. The extension of this programme to schools, human settlements, clinics and other public buildings has the potential to build a local industry that is labour intensive and anchored on a sustainable value chain that supports SMME participation, income generation by households and skills development for unemployed youth.

The Department’s Head Office, Environment House in Tshwane, is a living and working example of the impact of green buildings. Since its occupation in 2015, Environment House, a Six Star Green Rated Building, has already generated massive amounts of its own renewable electricity – over 2.5 million kilowatt hours as at March 2020. By displacing conventional, largely fossil-fuelled electricity, the Department has –

  • Avoided the use of over 3.4 million litres of precious water;
  • Avoided the atmospheric emission of over 2.6 million kg of Carbon dioxide (CO2), the principle greenhouse gas, and thousands of kilograms of particulate matter, South Africa’s most problematic air pollutant, and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen;
  • Avoided the burning of over 1.3 million kgs of coal;
  • Avoided the generation of almost a half a million kg of coal ash waste; and
  • Saved over R 3.7 million on electricity purchases.

The Department’s sophisticated grey-water and rainwater harvesting systems continue to reduce the pressure on our precious fresh water resource. For example, in March 2020 alone, Environment House used just under a million litres of harvested greywater to flush its toilets and just under half a million litres of harvested rain water to irrigate it beautiful indigenous gardens.

Turning to this afternoon’s Summit session on sustainable energy, the implementation of the Reconstruction and Recovery Plan will see the retrofitting of the ageing Mpumalanga power stations with solar power to save jobs, sustain livelihoods and ensure that important grid infrastructure is revitalized.

In this area alone, there have been impressive green shoots to brighten the COVID gloom.

For example, just over a week ago, Ford South Africa announced the launch of a major new initiative to decrease its dependence on fossil-fuel sourced electricity through the installation of a bespoke solar carport at its assembly plant in Silverton, Tshwane. This will protect the newly built vehicles from the elements while providing electricity to run the plant. Valued at R135 million, this 13,5 MW, 31 000 PV panel, solution will be one of the largest solar carports in the world. According to Ford, the project will neutralise its CO2 footprint at the plant within the next four years. It will also make the Silverton assembly plant the first of Ford’s plants anywhere in the world to be totally energy self-sufficient. Ford also noted that the project will create over 5000 new jobs for people living near the facility over the coming years.

A week earlier, and just two years after construction kicked-off, the Kangnas Wind Farm, just outside Springbok in the Northern Cape, announced that it had achieved its Commercial Operations Date. The project, part of government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REI4P), will generate enough clean energy to satisfy the needs of 154 625 average South African households, as it is expected to generate over 513 GWh of renewable energy each year, during its 20-year operations period. Constructed by a proudly South African team, mostly from the local Nama Khoi Municipal area, this massive 14O MW wind project comprises 61 turbines and is one of 12 wind farms in this part of the REI4P bid window four procurement round.

Following industry trends directed by government’s local content requirements, the wind farm achieved very high local content levels, exceeding 45%. This includes both locally manufactured turbine towers as well as the project’s mega transformer which helped to drive the demand for local manufacturers to offer items previously only available through import.

The communities of Nababeep, Springbok, Concordia, Matjieskloof, Bergsig, Okiep and Carolusberg are the direct beneficiaries of developmental programmes, designed to create social resilience and local capacity.  The wind farm has already been active during the construction period and has committed itself to continued benefits to these communities throughout its operation. Kangnas Wind Farm, most recently, provided support to the local healthcare centre in Springbok through the provision of Oxygen machines and other equipment to assist with COVID-19 relief.

This renewable power plant will contribute to South Africa’s climate change mitigation efforts by eliminating approximately 550 000 t of carbon emissions each year when compared to traditional fossil fuel power plants.

In fact, the first REI4P bid window four wind farm celebrated its commencement of commercial operations in mid-October 2020.

But the Green Economy components of the Reconstruction and Recovery Plan do not only focus on sustainable energy, other critical green economy interventions include amongst others the following high impact priority areas:

  • Increased investments in the biodiversity economy infrastructure including the expansion of our Protected Area estate. Not only does this contribute to our conservation efforts that build and maintain climate change resilience, but this also adds significantly to our tourism product;
  • Support for SMMEs and cooperatives to take advantage of opportunities in the green economy;
  • The facilitation of large-scale ash, gypsum, slag and biomass beneficiation initiatives;
  • Support for small grower farmers through PPPs in forestry, including in state plantations;
  • Support for Traditional Authorities Demonstration Projects;
  • Waste picker integration and the revitalisation of recyclables buy-back centres;
  • The implementation of significant sectoral industry waste management plans; and
  • Intermediary solutions for aquaculture products, and the revitalisation and upgrade of existing government hatcheries and research centres.

In addition, mass employment opportunities will be created through social employment programmes such as the “War on Waste” campaign. Specific initiatives to boost mass employment creation will include the creation of 50,000 new job opportunities in environmental programmes and 14,000 new opportunities in community forestry.

The Plan also identifies the increased use of green infrastructure bonds and green climate finance as critical elements of mobilising resources for the economic recovery and reconstruction effort.

In terms of innovation, the Plan sees fuel cell technologies as having considerable potential for the greening of the mining and transport sectors.

Finally, one of the most important ‘lessons from lockdown’ is the unexpected global experiment in telework – working from home. I believe that this experience presents yet another turning point in respect of the future of work in our transition to sustainable development. For many white collar workers, the realisation that ‘work is what we do – not where we go’ has potentially far-reaching and positive Green Economy implications.

With this I wish you a productive and successful Summit – a Summit that could not be more timeous or topical as COVID-19 provides humanity with a tragic insight into the unprecedented challenges of global crises like climate change. If there is one thing that we must learn from this, it is that we are all in this together and it is local, regional and international partnership, united effort and common cause that delivers solutions.

Thank you.


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