Many countries in Africa are already experiencing negative impacts of climate change,prompting the emergence of various policies to mitigate and adapt to these changes. This paper evaluates the emerging green economy in South Africa, using ideas from the concept of sustainable rural livelihoods. Rural livelihoods in Africa and other developing countries are intimately connected to ecological services. Contrary to the dominant development discourse where African societies are reflected as being helpless, communities and governments are prioritizing green economy for job creation, poverty alleviation and reducing inequalities, while addressing global environmental concerns. But the concepts of sustainable development and green economy have both been criticized for lack of clear definitions. While it is agreed that there is a lack of clarity on the two concepts and failure in implementation at the global level, this paper argues that the key tenets of the two concepts are particularly relevant for rural development.
What remains problematic, however, is how objectives of a green economy and sustainable development are to be achieved. One of the key challenges in South Africa, and other developing countries, is the gap between policy and implementation of sustainable development, the Millennium Development Goals and other such globally driven initiatives. A central question is, therefore: what needs to be done in order for local economies and societies to realize mutual objectives of investing in natural capital, decarbonizing the economy and creating green jobs? Of major concern in this paper is how green economy policies and proposals can stimulate growth and development in rural areas and improve rural livelihoods. For the rural poor (and particularly women) to cope with environmental degradation and to reduce their vulnerabilities, they need to access capital assets, energy, good infrastructure, community support and functional institutions.
South Africa is vulnerable to climate change scenarios of increased frequency and magnitude of extreme events such as droughts and floods. Other environmental problems leading to human vulnerability include air and water pollution, the deterioration of rivers and land degradation. The county’s path to a green economy is therefore a response to these looming threats. It is also influenced by international agendas that call for adaptation and mitigation strategies against climate change and the global financial crisis.
Unlike countries that show a strong urban bias in greening the economy, social equity components are key features of national plans in South Africa. The Limpopo province, for example, is committed to championing sustainable development through (among other things) the promotion of green economy and creation of green jobs. Limpopo is the most northerly province in South Africa and is significantly rural in character. From a developmental perspective, the key tenets of sustainable development, including environmental conservation, social development and economic progress with reduced impacts on the natural resource base, are still relevant in seeking solutions to rural development problems due to the importance of ecological systems for the survival of whole communities. Achieving sustainable rural livelihoods—through developing policies that take into account the developmental needs of local economies and societies—therefore remains a key objective in many initiatives in Africa. The concept of sustainable rural livelihoods is especially relevant to exploring gender and poverty issues in the emerging green economy policy.
In Limpopo province, providing jobs and addressing poverty issues will require interventions at both local and regional levels to bridge the gap between policy and implementation. For propoor policies to work there must be concerted efforts to direct resources to sectors where poor people are employed, locations where they live and to producing food which they consume. Unskilled labour needs to be valued and remunerated accordingly.
Green economy policy therefore needs to consider poverty reduction and women’s empowerment in order to promote rural sustainable development. For this to occur, the following mix of strategies is recommended:
- link pro-poor policies such as land reform, rural development and social support to the overall green economy policy;
- address women’s empowerment and gender equity issues by ensuring that women and men have equal access to resources such as land, technology information, extension services and decision making;
- ensure benefits accruing from the processing and sale of products are extended to both men and women equally;
- provide opportunities for livelihood diversification beyond agriculture;
- protect the rights of both men and women in green projects;
- ensure access to markets for products from green economy initiatives;
- ensure access to skills development of both men and women participants in green projects;
- improve participation and decision making by all stakeholders including beneficiaries of green projects;
- ensure long term provision of solar energy to poor rural communities at affordable prices; and
- incorporate communities into green economy plans and programmes.
In conclusion, the paper argues that social development issues are important for successful implementation of green economy policies that are able to transform rural livelihoods, alleviate poverty and ensure gender equality.
Agnes Musyoki is an Economic Geographer and holds a PhD from Howard University, United States. She has held university academic positions at Kenyatta University, University of Botswana and University of Venda. She is currently a Professor in the Department of Geography and Geo-Information Sciences, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Venda, Republic of South Africa. Her research interests and publications are in environment and development, gender and development, land reform and rural market systems.