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sacan.africa / Blog  / 2024  / South Africa’s 2024 Elections: Prioritising Climate Change in Political Agendas

South Africa's 2024 Elections: Prioritising Climate Change in Political Agendas

South Africa is heading for a general election on the 29th of May. This upcoming election presents an opportunity to engage with pressing cross-cutting challenges in the country such as climate change. As such, this moment calls for a reflection on what parties are saying about climate change in their manifestos, including the plans and policies they have to address it. This is particularly because climate change has become a challenging reality for many people in the country and highlights the urgent need for South Africans to elect a government that understands the magnitude of threats posed by it and prioritises effective and sustainable mitigation actions required to address them.

Therefore, this blog post aims to analyse the political manifestos of various political parties, focusing specifically on their positions regarding climate action. The selection criteria for the manifestos included both long-established parties and newly formed parties that have recently gained attention or been central to public discourse over the past years and months. By including the long-established parties, this blog tries to capture the views of those with significant influence and historical context in shaping climate policy. Simultaneously, including newer parties allows us to highlight emerging ideas and innovative approaches that could impact future climate action. This balanced methodology provides a robust analysis of the current and potential future directions in climate change policy as articulated by a broad spectrum of political actors.

What is an Election Manifesto?
An election manifesto is a strategic plan that details the policies a political party commits to implementing if it gets elected to office. Before a general election, each party publishes its manifesto to outline the basis of its campaign. These documents are important for communicating to voters the reasons for supporting the party. Although manifestos can simply list policy proposals, they are typically detailed documents that cover the party’s position on various issues. They not only present policies but also explain the goals behind them in order to convince voters to support their agenda. For a manifesto to be credible, its policies must be practical and resonate with voters. Although manifesto promises aren’t legally binding, failing to fulfil them can lead to voter disillusionment and backlash against the party.

Given the urgency of climate change and its impact on South Africans, it is important that we examine what different parties are proposing in their manifestos to address this issue. Therefore, the section below will explore climate change strategies and commitments outlined by political parties in their election manifestos.

African National Congress

As outlined in their election manifesto, the African National Congress (ANC) aims to prioritise green technologies, energy efficiency, waste management, climate-smart agriculture, and eco-friendly production processes to ensure long-term sustainability. This includes developing plans to establish South Africa as a global leader in green hydrogen, battery, and electric vehicle production. The ANC manifesto has highlighted that the party seeks to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and technological advancements to ensure a just transition that supports affected communities and workers, particularly in areas like Mpumalanga. They propose to support innovation in green technologies, climate change adaptation, and mitigation efforts, as well as increase spending on research and development.

Inkatha Freedom Party

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is aware that the next 10 years are critical for addressing the planet’s environmental crisis, characterised by biodiversity loss, climate disruption, and escalating pollution, particularly from single-use plastics. It states that an IFP government will engage stakeholders, workers, unions, communities, and businesses to develop fair policies for a sustainable future. It also states that the IFP government will protect wildlife, promote ethical tourism, and preserve biodiversity for future generations. The party commits to reducing human impacts on ocean ecosystems like the Great African Sea Forest and supports sustainable fishing practices, marine protected areas, and environmental education.

The IFP seeks to implement policies that will reduce single-use plastics, improve law enforcement against illegal hunting, and establish wildlife courts. They plan to encourage recycling and proper plastic waste disposal, fight against rhino poaching with stricter penalties and public awareness, and ban captive-bred lion hunting and the trade of lion parts by empowering communities through conservation education. 

VF Plus

The Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) acknowledges the urgency of climate change and advocates for both reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. Their approach includes transitioning from coal-fired power stations to renewable energy plants and replacing petrol and diesel with electric transport. They emphasise the need for stronger pollution control, effective law enforcement, and upgrading sewage and water infrastructure. FF Plus proposes modernising water management, building more dams, and integrating water and soil management to combat desertification. Additionally, they focus on the sustainable utilisation of natural resources to alleviate poverty and create jobs, while banning harmful practices like animal testing for cosmetics and captive lion hunting. Overall, their strategy aims to balance conservation with socio-economic benefits through sustainable resource use and enhanced environmental protection.

United Democratic Movement

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) recognises the existence of climate change in South Africa and refers to the severe droughts, floods, and infrastructure failures within the country as evidence of its impact and highlights the need for urgent action by referencing the country’s participation in the United Nations’ COP27 climate conference and the unveiling of a Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP) aimed at decarbonising the economy by 2030. However, it expresses scepticism about the government’s ability to implement such plans effectively, given its track record with implementation.

Despite international pressure for South Africa to transition to a green economy, the UDM emphasises the need to balance this with addressing long-standing socio-economic challenges. The party advocates for protecting South Africa’s interests and ensuring that developmental goals are prioritised alongside environmental concerns. It also pledges to address corruption within entities like Eskom, streamline government structures to improve coordination and promote public awareness and engagement on climate change and the transition to a green economy.

Democratic Alliance

According to the Democratic Alliance’s election manifesto, to contribute to climate action, the party plans to transition away from reliance on Eskom by significantly increasing the use of renewable energy sources. This includes developing local manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technologies without resorting to protectionist trade practices and incentivising the training and development of skills in the renewable energy sector. The party also aims to lower high tariffs on imports of renewable energy technologies, such as solar panels, to make these technologies more affordable and accessible. Additionally, the DA is committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by diversifying the energy mix, thereby reducing the climate impact of energy generation.

Economic Freedom Fighters

The EFF’s manifesto on climate change outlines a comprehensive plan to address environmental issues and transition to sustainable development. The EFF proposes streamlining environmental authorisation procedures under the Department of Environmental Affairs for mining and property development. Measures to fight against pollution include treating stormwater runoff and reducing plastic waste through initiatives like phasing out plastic bags and investing in biodegradable alternatives.

Key initiatives include creating one million climate jobs to transition from coal-based energy to a mix of fossil, nuclear, and renewable sources. They also plan to establish recycling plants in each municipality and fund research into sustainable materials. The EFF aims to reduce carbon emissions, pollution in rivers, and promote environmental education and conservation. Their strategy includes nationalising game reserves, collaborating with African governments for a Green Revolution, and implementing carbon taxes. They prioritise ecological infrastructure maintenance, air quality standards, waste management, and renewable energy adoption. Additionally, they plan to establish research centres for clean energy and promote biodiversity conservation through protected area expansion and freshwater ecosystem management.

GOOD

GOOD’s manifesto recognises the need to address climate change both scientifically and morally. They advocate for the preservation and fair distribution of natural resources and a just transition to a green economy. To combat climate change, GOOD acknowledges the necessity of reducing carbon emissions through changes in electricity production and speeding up the transition to electric vehicles. 

The manifesto highlights the dual crises of climate change and load shedding, proposing a rapid shift to renewable energy in partnership with the private sector as the solution. They argue that green energy is the most cost-effective and sustainable form of energy production. While some coal use may be unavoidable in the short term, a GOOD government will not extend the lifespan of existing coal plants beyond their scheduled retirement. The transition to renewable energy must be just, ensuring that coal industry workers and dependent communities are supported, and holding wealthy, industrialised nations accountable for funding the transition in developing countries.

Action SA

ActionSA recognises the climate crisis and its impact on South Africa, including severe droughts, floods, and infrastructure failures. They emphasise the importance of preserving the natural environment and mitigating the effects of natural disasters to ensure socio-economic success. Their approach focuses on  enhancing water security by increasing the water supply through research into technologies like affordable desalination, building resilient infrastructure, and investing in bulk water storage. They also aim to reduce water demand by promoting efficient water use and developing grey-water distribution systems. Wastewater management and improving water infrastructure are key components of their strategy, including a nationwide leak identification program and developing additional infrastructure such as dams and treatment plants.

ActionSA also commits to protecting biodiversity and reducing pollution. They plan to support wildlife conservation, strengthen border controls against poaching, and empower enforcement agencies to combat environmental crimes. They propose strict measures against ocean pollution, enforce air pollution controls aligned with international standards, and support recycling initiatives to reduce landfill waste. Their strategy promotes a holistic societal approach, encouraging collaboration between government, private sector, civil society, and academic institutions to effectively respond to climate change and natural disasters.

RISE Mzansi

RISE Mzansi’s climate change manifesto emphasises environmentally sustainable development and economic growth. Key priorities include transitioning to a low-carbon economy, supporting communities in mitigating climate impacts, and promoting a green energy mix with reduced reliance on coal and increased use of solar, wind, and energy storage. They propose tax incentives for residential solar panels and support for glow-income energy cooperatives.

The manifesto also aims to electrify the transport system, decarbonise industry with green hydrogen and electric arc furnaces, and promote water-efficient, innovative agricultural practices. They advocate for a circular economy by formalising the recycling industry and holding manufacturers accountable for waste. Finally, they emphasise disaster management with improved planning, preparedness, early warning systems, and rapid response services.

In assessing the climate action priorities outlined in the above manifestos, it becomes evident that while many political parties attempt to address environmental issues, the degree of their progressiveness and practicality in their proposed solutions varies. At the forefront, the EFF offers a comprehensive strategy that addresses a wide range of environmentals issues from carbon emissions and renewable energy adoption to environmental education and conservation. The party also emphasises creating climate jobs, which demonstrates their commitment to a just transition that supports workers affected by the shift away from fossil fuels.

However, there remains a question of feasibility. Similarly, the DA and IFP also reveal moderately progressive approaches that focus on renewable energy and environmental conservation but lack detailed plans for a fair transition and addressing socio-economic challenges that may come with the transition. Meanwhile, the ANC, ActionSA, RISE Mzansi, and the FF Plus offer mixed degrees of progressiveness, with varying levels of emphasis on environmental justice and a fair transition. Lastly, the UDM falls short as it fails to provide detailed and actionable climate policies in their manifesto. This is particularly because while they acknowledge climate change and the international efforts to fight against it, they are also sceptical about the government’s ability to implement these plans effectively. This scepticism coupled with a primary focus on balancing socio-economic challenges without clear actionable climate policies makes their approach less robust compared to other parties. Additionally, their emphasis on addressing corruption and streamlining government structures, while important, lacks the direct, detailed environmental strategies that we see in other manifestos.

In conclusion, despite these varying stances on climate action, many party manifestos in South Africa typically prioritise socio-economic development by focusing on aspects such as economic growth, job creation, and poverty alleviation. While these are critical objectives, there is often a lack of comprehensive focus on the environmental agenda and strategies to address climate-related issues. However, as citizens, we must not view jobs, poverty alleviation, and other development goals as mutually exclusive to environmental concerns. It is important that we recognise that addressing climate change can and should go hand in hand with creating sustainable livelihoods. Therefore, as we approach the elections, it becomes important for our political discourse to highlight the urgency of climate change and integrate it into political debates to ensure a holistic approach to South Africa’s development.

Esihle Mihlali Dube is a Development Studies Masters candidate with keen interests in politics and development and writes this in her capacity as a Climate Action & Coordination Intern at the Climate Action Network South Africa (SACAN).

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