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2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS: Any climate-friendly parties out there worthy of your vote?

If you’re a single-issue voter and that single issue is the environment and the impending climate crisis, is there a party out there worthy of your vote?

Here’s how many times each party mentions climate crisis-related terms in their party manifestos for the 2021 Local Government Election. Graphic: Marushka Stipinovich

ANC

South Africa’s inequalities will be exacerbated by the most pressing issue of our time – the climate crisis. Yet the ANC has made little to no effort to address the urgency of the crisis in its manifesto for the upcoming local government elections.

With southern Africa warming at twice the global average rate, South Africa can expect more droughts, less water, inaccessible food supply owing to high prices, food insecurity, unbearable weather conditions, and so forth. And the poor will be worst affected.

The climate crisis is mentioned only once in the ANC manifesto, in the context of eliminating ageing coal-fired power stations to reduce emissions and improve air quality – a shallow response.

Charles Simane, Climate Justice Charter Movement activist and researcher and organiser at the Co-operative and Policy Alternative Centre, told DM168 the party was not taking an intersectional approach to the crisis because it wanted to see it as being solely an environmental problem.

“In drought-affected communities, for example, women and girls are the bearers of climate shocks. The problem is that the ANC is deliberately ignorant of the intersectional dynamics of the climate crisis and how it is making existing gender, class and race inequalities worse,” Simane said.

Frequently mentioned in the party manifesto is water, but solely in the context of providing the service to those without, limiting water leaks and improving water infrastructure. As far as increased water shortages as a result of the climate crisis are concerned, the party would have collected zero points, despite a 17% gap in water supply and demand in the country by 2030.

Mention is made of eliminating coal-fired power stations, but a just transition is nowhere to be found in the manifesto.

“The ANC is not committed to decarbonisation and a deep, just transition in society. [It is] still committed to a carbon-intensive energy complex heavily reliant on coal and gas. It is no surprise that [its] manifesto ignores the urgency of the climate crisis,” said Simane.

DA

The DA manifesto concedes that “South Africa is officially recognised as a water scarce country”. It points, however, to the history of the problem as a by-product of failed governance.

“Over two decades of under-investment has led to old water pipes and infrastructure, which increases loss of water. The reality of water scarcity means leaking pipes are a waste South Africa cannot afford. On top of [ageing] infrastructure, careless water use and growing urban populations place significant pressure on already weak systems. Water crises in municipalities across South Africa reflect government failure at its most basic level,” the DA manifesto reads.

It recognises that “water is essential to life, health and economic development” and that “it is the building block to human life and of every municipality”.

Nobody of sound mental faculty would disagree that “South Africa’s municipal sewerage system is collapsing” and “the deteriorating state of municipal wastewater and sewage treatment management in South Africa is one of the largest contributing factors to the numerous pollution problems experienced in most parts of the country and a major contributor to environmental and human health problems”. Yet the DA places little emphasis on the exogenous contributing factors that will exacerbate these issues – namely climate change.

In an interview with DM168, Professor Francois Engelbrecht, a climatologist at the Wits Global Change Institute and a lead author on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: “I think that the single biggest risk we are facing because of climate change in the immediate future – by that I mean the next 10 years – is a Day Zero drought in Gauteng.”

The DA’s manifesto says: “We have experience in effectively fighting water shortages and droughts. Working together with residents, businesses and civil society of the Western Cape, we beat Day Zero. We will beat it again in other municipalities where we are elected to govern.”

It adds that “the DA will ensure that we do all we can in all spheres of government to protect our aquatic ecosystems on which our water supply depends”.

Referencing the national bane that is load shedding and electricity generation in South Africa, the DA’s manifesto notes that, “despite growing awareness that coal mining is an industry under threat, South Africa as one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world has been slow to decarbonise”.

ActionSA

New kids on the block ActionSA, led by Johannesburg’s former mayor Herman Mashaba, is focused on reliable service delivery, transparent leadership, zero corruption and safety. But what are its plans in relation to the climate crisis and building a sustainable future?

ActionSA does have a section in its manifesto titled “Sustainable and future-oriented Government”, which summarises the party’s municipal plans for a greener future.

ActionSA commits itself to fighting climate change and integrating sustainability models, and its manifesto mentions the climate crisis twice. But how exactly it is going to fight climate change and integrate sustainability models is left rather vague.

ActionSA says it will work with communities to help build green and clean public spaces by investing in tree planting and promoting reusing, recycling and reducing waste, among other things.

It emphasises a commitment to improving air quality, providing residents with potable drinking water and protecting biodiversity, fauna and flora, stating that anyone who causes damage to the environment will be held accountable.

It is also committed to providing water, electricity and refuse services to more informal settlements to work towards a universal access to basic services.

But perhaps more interesting is what it has chosen to leave out.

The words global warming, just transition, energy, renewable energy, dry/drought or pollution were not mentioned anywhere in the manifesto. However, it does mention electricity eight times, saying it will invest in replacing ageing infrastructure and pursue procurement from the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme – ultimately working towards not being reliant on Eskom.

It nevertheless does not mention renewable energy or energy alternatives once.

Alex Lenferna, secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition, which is leading the Green New Eskom Campaign, said: “[ActionSA’s] manifesto says so little about climate. What [it does] say is vague and doesn’t commit to treating the climate like the emergency it is, requiring the urgent transformation of our economy.

“As such, I’d say [the] manifesto fails to treat climate change with the urgency required.”

Simane expressed a similar sentiment. “ActionSA’s manifesto fails to prioritise adaptation strategies to climate shocks like the droughts which are already devastating small-scale subsistence farmers. The party has no mitigation plans for climate change and its manifesto reflects a party with no understanding of the intersection impacts of the climate crisis.

“Local government must prioritise adaptation and mitigation measures, especially in our region, which is warming at about twice the global average,” he said.

EFF

The EFF is likely to be a kingmaker in several local municipalities after this election, but its plans for tackling the climate crisis are vague.

Climate scientist at the University of Cape Town Dr Peter Johnston said the EFF manifesto doesn’t say much about climate change, which “is only mentioned once in the manifesto … on page 58. They say EFF municipalities will incentivise businesses that use clean energy, have clean water and recycling methods and limit their levels of pollution, but they don’t indicate how that is going to happen and what clean energy they are going to be using,” he said.

He said that, if the businesses generate their own solar power, how are they going to be incentivised?

“They don’t mention climate change but say EFF municipalities will install solar power in all houses built by the municipality. They don’t mention whether they are talking about all the infrastructure (municipal buildings) or residential houses. They don’t say if they are going to install solar power in all municipal buildings and if only the new houses will have solar power installed,” Johnston said.

He said the manifesto does not say anything about reducing the dependency on fossil fuels as the country is getting 90% of its electricity from coal-fired power stations.

“The dependency on fossil fuels is the driver of climate change but they don’t mention how they will reduce fossil fuel usage,” he said.

Johnston said there was also no mention of reducing private transport, increasing public transport and incentivising people to reduce their carbon footprint.

“All I can say is that the EFF manifesto is very weak towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. There are no specifications, no details and their manifesto lacks details on what actions they will take to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” he said.

Good

If the Good party is doing good on anything, it’s its policy towards climate change. The party, in its manifesto, acknowledges the climate crisis as an environmental justice problem.

The party, led by Patricia de Lille, is promising South Africans that it is building a sustainable society for future generations.

The Good party acknowledges in its manifesto that climate change is real and impacting the economy, food security and the environment. It says it is determined to tackle the crisis, and uphold environmental and animal rights. Missing, however, is how the party plans to achieve its goals of helping cities to reduce emissions and waste, mitigations and adaptation measures and a transition to cheaper and renewable energy sources.

Water has been a hot topic, especially in Cape Town, where the party received the majority of its votes. But water is mainly mentioned in the context of providing a service and improving infrastructure, in order to make water services available to many.

Although “just transition” is absent from the manifesto, the party says it will drive a city-led transition to a green economy through cheaper renewable power, disinvesting from fossil fuel and an electric vehicle fleet for public transport, among other things.

The short mention of environmental justice seems a step in the right direction for the party, which gathered 0.4% of votes nationally in the previous national elections. However, missing are details of how Good plans to implement its climate justice goals when the ruling party is struggling to achieve a just transition, mitigation and adaptation.

The party’s biggest supporters are from Cape Town, where the drought left many without water. While water is not mentioned in the context of drought in one of the party’s manifestos, its second one mentions the effects of droughts and heatwaves as a water security risk.

“Good will improve water security by removing water-thirsty invasive alien vegetation, thereby creating many rural jobs, increasing water yields and also improving our environment,” the party’s second manifesto reads. DM168/OBP