As South Africans went to the polls yesterday to elect our local government representatives, delegates from across the world were gathering in Glasgow, Scotland for the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference.
The summit is taking place at a crucial time. Nations of the world urgently need to slow down the rate of global warming and tackle the effects of climate change.
While the discussions taking place on the other side of the world may seem far removed from the issues that matter to voters in our local government elections, the reality is that the agreements reached at the global climate summit affect the daily lives of all our people. They affect many of the issues that featured prominently in this election: electricity, water, jobs and housing, among others.
The extreme weather events that we are experiencing as a result of climate change affect the health, lives and livelihoods of people in every country, including our own.
Adverse weather such as droughts affect our already scare water supplies, making access to water harder and causing widespread crop failure that threatens our food security. Polluted air negatively affects human health. Waterborne diseases are more easily spread when there is frequent flooding.
As a country, we are committed to making our fair contribution to the global climate change effort, and have recently set new and more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets.
While we are undertaking national efforts to achieve these targets, it is equally important that we combat climate change through local actions.
At local government level, we need to integrate climate change considerations into service delivery planning. This needs to be in areas such as the design of human settlements, in energy management though solar water heating for low-income households, and in the use of renewable energy in municipal water and wastewater infrastructure.
A number of municipalities, notably in KwaZulu-Natal, are already piloting the use of different renewable energy sources such as landfill gas to electricity, biomass, biogas and small-scale hydro power. Last month the City of Cape Town launched the pilot phase of a floating solar power plant at a wastewater treatment works.
Recent amendments to electricity regulations that allow municipalities to buy and generate their own power are expected to lead to a greater uptake of renewable energy technologies over time.
Beyond energy considerations, we are also working to advance the constitutional right of citizens to a clean and healthy environment.
Air pollution remains a major concern for a number of vulnerable communities, particularly those in close proximity to areas of industrial activity. We have
improved air quality management over the years, putting norms and standards in place to regulate, manage and control air quality.
South Africa’s expectations from COP26 are high.
It is our expectation that as we are playing our part in the global climate change effort and have raised the level of our ambition, other nations should so the same. We will also affirm our position that developed countries have a responsibility to assist developing countries to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
We will continue with our efforts to build resilience in communities, and to harness the potential of the green economy to make a difference in the lives of our citizens and grow our economy.
This includes greater use of renewables in electricity generation and the use of green technologies in water and waste management. We will support the recycling economy by revitalising buy-back centres and integrating waste-pickers into the recycling economy value chain.
Through municipal land-use zoning we are planning to make more land available for agricultural production in communities, including for communal food gardens.
Environmental conservation and climate action have the potential for new business development and to support job creation on a large scale, including through public employment programmes.
Under the first phase of the Presidential Employment Stimulus, we supported thousands of beneficiaries in environmental management, sustainable land management and ecosystems conservation programmes.
Communities that are safer, healthier and climate change resilient are key to our collective future. Even as actions are taken at a national level and decisions made on the global stage, adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change is our shared responsibility.
We can all make a difference by making responsible decisions, whether it is by recycling our trash, by choosing sustainable food sources, by conserving water, or by keeping our communities clean.
Each of these decisions we make has an impact on our natural world and on the climate crisis that affects us all. Let us all play our part in the fight against climate change, whether in our homes, in our communities, in our country or on the global stage.