This article was first published in the Daily Maverick on 26 May 2024

South Africa’s three major parties fail to adequately address the climate crisis in their election manifestos

The manifestos of the ANC, DA and EFF abjectly fail to grasp the seriousness of the climate emergency. Because of this, none of them proposes the kind of policies and transformations urged by the United Nations so that we can live within safe planetary boundaries.

Addressing last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, or Conference of the Parties (COP28), United Nations secretary-general António Guterres stated that “Earth’s vital signs are failing” and that because of this “humanity’s fate hangs in the balance”.

Human Rights March to constitution with Andile Mlambo and other activists leading the march.

Drawing attention to “record emissions, ferocious fires, deadly droughts and the hottest year ever”, he lamented that current climate policies “would lead to an Earth-scorching three-degree temperature rise”.

Focusing on the question of climate justice, Guterres stated: “Developing countries are being devastated by disasters they did not cause.”

As a “developing country” which is already experiencing the severe impacts of climate change in the form of droughts and deadly floods, it is worth examining the climate policies of the major political parties in South Africa as we approach the upcoming election.

Within the context of global climate collapse and the need to pursue just climate policies, what exactly are we being promised in the manifestos of the three largest political parties, which account for nearly 90% of seats in the current Parliament?

More action shots from Andile during a protest.

The ANC’s manifesto appears to take the issue of climate change seriously. It mentions “climate change” seven times and asserts that the party will “work with other countries in the fight against climate change”.

The manifesto notes that the party will work to “mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change” while ensuring that a Just Transition takes place within the transition to a “low carbon economy”.

These objectives are then almost entirely undermined by the party’s commitment to develop “gas … power projects for increased energy generation” and to create a “National oil company for petroleum refinery and petrochemical industrialisation”, which clearly references the oil exploration currently taking place around South Africa’s coast.

The ANC’s commitment to gas and oil is incompatible with its promise “to fight against climate change”, because as Guterres also noted at COP28 “we cannot save a burning planet with a firehose of fossil fuels”.

Avid speaker and environmental justice activist, Andile Mlambo, on the podium.

The DA’s manifesto makes a single reference to the climate by noting that the party will commit “to achieving net-zero carbon emissions to reduce the impact of energy generation on the climate”.

It provides no date for how or when net zero will be reached nor does it make any mention of how this transition to low-carbon energy generation will be just. The manifesto contains no other mentions of the climate crisis or how a DA government will address the impacts of climate change.

The EFF’s manifesto mentions climate change six times and promises measures to address the crisis, including the establishment of “dedicated disaster research and development skill sets” to “future-proof communities” against climate change, along with policies to better manage water resources.

To assist in the fight against climate change, the manifesto says that the EFF will also “increase the building of infrastructure for renewables” and “will progressively introduce carbon taxes as one additional tool in the fight for sustainable development” while ensuring that “industrial carbon polluters are fined and prevented from continuing to pollute the environment”.

It notes that 1 million climate jobs will be created as the country transitions from a “coal-based energy system to a fair mix of energy sources”. It promises to adopt policies which both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Andile Mlambo, during a Climate Action protest in early 2024

After correctly noting that “South Africa’s environmental management does not adequately address the protection of the climate because the country is completely dependent on polluting energy sources”, the manifesto then introduces a raft of policies which ensure that South Africa will remain completely dependent on polluting energy sources, thus entirely undoing the policies which are designed to address climate change.

The manifesto references “coal” no fewer than 25 times, noting that the “EFF government will leverage 200 years of coal reserves”. The EFF claims it will be able to do this in an environmentally friendly way via “clean coal” and carbon-capture technologies – technologies that are, at this stage, completely untenable, either because they are fantastically expensive and largely unproven (carbon capture) or simply do not exist (there is no such thing as “clean coal”).

The manifesto also commits the EFF to developing gas and oil within the context of the Blue Economy.

Given this heavy emphasis on fossil fuels, it is no wonder then that the EFF wants South Africa’s commitment in terms of emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change renegotiated to allow South Africa to emit more climate-change-causing gases into the atmosphere.

All three party manifestos abjectly fail to grasp the seriousness of the climate emergency. Because of this, none of them proposes the kind of policies and transformations urged by the United Nations so that we can live within safe planetary boundaries.

If humanity’s fate does indeed “hang in the balance”, it is high time that South Africa’s three largest political parties championed policies in their manifestos that take the crisis seriously, for as Amilcar Cabral said, “to defend the Earth is the most efficient process to defend Humankind”.

By Andile Mlambo