Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tech Key to SA's Green Economy

We have no option but to manage our natural resources in a sustainable way, said president Jacob Zuma at the Green Economy Summit.

SA needs to improve its capacity to develop and use clean technologies, in order to move towards a low-carbon economy, said president Jacob Zuma at the country's first Green Economy Summit, in Sandton, yesterday.

“There is increasing recognition that clean technology development will offer significant business opportunities and gains,” he stated, adding that investment in technology will strengthen the economic case for environmental management and sustainable development.

“We have as one of our priorities the imperative to contribute to building a better Africa and a better world. To do that, we must tackle the challenges of climate change and chart an economic path that is both fair and sustainable,” he noted.

Zuma said there is a great opportunity to develop industries that combat the negative effects of climate change. “SA needs to develop a strong capacity in green technologies and industries.”

He argued that Africa was only at the start of its “industrial revolution”, as it seeks to diversify economies and develop a manufacturing base. “This offers a significant opportunity for investing in greener technologies.”

Zuma noted that new technology is available that will enable Africa to pursue a different industrial development path. “Renewable energy is becoming an increasingly viable alternative to the energy sources that fuelled the growth of the developed world.

“But for Africa to make use of its abundant renewable energy sources, it needs substantial investment, skills, technology and greater economic integration and cooperation.”

Water and environmental affairs minister Buyelwa Sonjica noted SA's green economy efforts should include several steps. “Firstly, substantial investment in technology research, development, and deployment is critical, with the primary objective of improving resource efficiency, reduction of waste and pollution, and seeking alternative solutions to goods and services.”

She noted the private sector had a significant role to play. “Technology innovations provide an opportunity for economic growth through exploitation of new business areas, particularly for climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Science and technology minster Naledi Pandor said a strong synergy between industry and government is needed to expand science and technology R&D in supporting a green economy.

She explained that her department is creating a Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to support innovation-led industrial development for various sectors. The TIA is forming close links with groups like the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), she noted, to ensure government support for promising initiatives.

The Department of Science and Technology has also begun designing a long-term technology and innovation roadmap to guide investment decisions and public-private partnerships, she added. “Our two key drivers are to build a knowledge-intensive economy and one that is sustainable.”

“A better broadband network will reduce the number of kilometres that people travel. A better broadband network is the key to a smart grid or smarter power grid.”

She pointed out that the private sector is already investing huge sums in both wireless and fixed broadband. “We know government can do more to set standards and to encourage innovation in those areas the private sector either won't or can't go into.”

Green jobs

Zuma also pointed out that stimulating investment in green industries will contribute to job creation. He noted the Medium-Term Strategic Framework, guiding government's programme from 2009 to 2014, aims to further explore the concept of “green jobs”.

“It's clear that hi-tech innovations will help employment grow over the long-term, as new technology spreads throughout the economy and transforms other, larger sectors,” said Pandor. She added existing jobs will need to be redesigned and workers equipped with green skills.

Economic development minister Ebrahim Patel said the IDC had begun to calculate the potential of the green economy for employment. Preliminary figures suggest up to 300 000 jobs can be created within the next 10 years, of which 20 000 are achievable in the next two years, said Patel.

These figures include jobs in the construction, manufacturing, and operation and management of power plants covering solar, bio fuels, small hydro, and pyrolysis technologies. He said the results will now be tested to produce final figures and incorporate them into planning strategies.

All together

For faster economic growth to be achieved alongside the sustainable management of SA's natural resources, a number of role-players have to get involved, Zuma said. These include various government departments, stakeholders, environmentalists, economists, policy-makers, scientists and business people, among others.

In addition, however, SA has to mobilise its own resources, both private and public, to tackle mitigation and adaptation.

“In short, we have no option but to manage our natural resources in a sustainable way. We have no choice but to be eco-friendly. We have no choice but to develop a green economy.”

The summit will see the creation of a national green economy plan with key focus areas for the short-, medium- and long-term. Zuma also noted the recently established National Planning Commission will aid government in developing long-term plans around issues such as climate change; infrastructure planning; and water, food and energy security.


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