Can the adoption of a green economy really create jobs and lead to sustainable development and economic growth?  South Korea’s National Strategy for low carbon and green growth is a great example of how an economic super power is transforming their economy.  If it is good enough for them, why can’t and why isn’t South Africa adopting a similar development strategy?

The strategy undertaken by South Korea illustrates the potential to move to a low carbon economy whilst not jeopardising growth, if anything it has created sustainable growth. In a nutshell, in 2008 South Korea put forward a vision which was to reduce their emissions by 30 percent below its projected emissions growth by 2020. This is an enormous reduction in total emissions and a stretch target for any economy. It required significant change in industry and power production and was passed in their national assembly, known as the Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth.

In South Korea, the move to a green economy puts forward a number of priority sectors in an attempt to promote reductions. These sectors range from energy sources (which tend to be the highest emitters), energy efficiency, transport, industry developments, urban planning and so forth. Through sound planning, each sector has to focus on a reduction target, which in turn equates to a holistic reduction in greenhouse gases.

The strategy includes a program of regulatory and fiscal reform and large investment into infrastructure projects aimed at supporting the transition to a green economy. Much of this investment is aimed at creating incentives for industries and individuals through tax alleviation/tax shifting, “green funds”, prioritizing carbon friendly products and implementing standards for a low carbon economy. They also intend implementing a carbon trading scheme to ensure absolute emissions reduction across sectors.

But what about employment and the creation of so called “green jobs”?  As we know, generally in developing nations, unemployment is a serious problem. A large percentage of the working class age group find themselves stuck with little or no income, barring government grants and social security. How do a nation, its economic drivers and industries tackle this problem, whilst attempting to become a low carbon emission economy?

South Koreas National Strategy for low carbon, green growth is structured on a fundamental strategy based on “green” investment. It is the key driving force behind shifting an economy in a new direction. This stems from the premise that government investment should encourage, not force industry onto a new path through investing in the desired direction. In this case, that is the shift to a low carbon, green economy.

How have they done this?

As we know energy and heat generation is a massive contributor to total carbon emissions. This opens the window to new technologies. Whether the source is wind, water or even nuclear, these all have major reduction benefits and longevity as opposed to burning coal and other fossil fuels. Although, a developing nation (and to an extent any nation really) cannot move completely away from coal based electricity production at this stage, it does open a new market, and hence a new job market, being the renewable energy sector.

A greening economy promotes SME’s to thrive under the right conditions. For a government to move their country forward in their reduction plans, it needs to incentivise business in the right direction. This means, promoting businesses that are “carbon friendly” for lack of a better term. Promoting businesses that are low carbon emitters, or alternatively deal with reducing emissions indirectly such as solar geysers, wind turbine installations etc. will allow these SME’s to thrive in a growing environment. This coupled with potential economic benefits for companies and individuals allows for a growing investment in the low carbon space, and hence increases job prospects within the sector.

The growing market for smart, green design is another example and is becoming more and more prevalent all over the world. What this means is that buildings are becoming more and more energy efficient through their design. Better insulation, ventilation, lighting and use of space allows for buildings to use a fraction of the energy and heating previously required in older buildings. Products and expertise to meet this new global demand represents new market offerings and new job opportunities for those willing to invest.

The list goes on as one can delve deeper and deeper into how jobs can be created through the investment in a green economy. Ultimately, educating people on the “why” is the first step to a long process of converting to a sustainable economy with the future in mind. South Korea predicted that their conversion to a low carbon, green economy would yield in excess of 1.18 million jobs by 2020 in the focus sectors. This does not include the market and industry growth in other sectors not under the microscope.

South Africa has all the potential to make a real change and move to a more carbon friendly environment, and we have to ask the question as to why there is not a massive drive to shift to a green economy. This will position us as amongst the leaders in the emerging low carbon economy and dogged investment in a coal based future is short sighted and of significant concern for our future global competitiveness.  If mooted international carbon trade tariffs come into existence, our manufacturing sector will be left on the back foot and exports will plummet literally overnight.

Yes, the investment is enormous to begin with, but the positive lasting effects and future costs to shift must surely start opening the eyes of those in power, which inevitably make those decisions. South Africa is a country with diversity in all aspects, from its people, geography, resources, and most importantly at this stage, its economy. We have been at the forefront of so much in our history; we have grown into a flexible nation that can change and adapt. If ever there were a country that could achieve something, it must be us, and to that I beg the question as to why we are not being more vigilant in combatting the most pressing challenge that we currently have, namely the future of our planet.

Author: Matthew Kleinenberg

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