While COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on South Africa, work is afoot to create a new, inclusive economy that will create employment and foster sustainable growth for all South Africans, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"As we work with our social partners to develop an urgent economic recovery programme, we are determined that we should not merely return to where we were before the pandemic struck. We are instead looking at actions that will build a new, inclusive economy that creates employment and fosters sustainable growth," said the President on Monday.
The President made this call in his weekly newsletter to the nation.
This comes a week after the country moved to level 2 of the lockdown.
South Africa has been on various levels of lockdown since March 2020 when the country confirmed its first COVID-19 cases.
As of Sunday, the country had 609 773 confirmed cases, with 13 059 deaths.
With the country's economy reeling from the debilitating effects of Coronavirus, the President said government is already working with social partners to develop an urgent economic recovery programme.
The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the social, economic, business and industrial landscape of South Africa and counties around the world.
President Ramaphosa said an important aspect of a new economy for South Africa is that it must be able to withstand the effects of climate change.
"A climate-resilient economy is necessary to protect jobs, ensure the sustainability of our industries, preserve our natural resources and ensure food security," he said.
He also referred to the resumption of human and industrial activity.
"While the dramatic scaling down of human and industrial activity during COVID-19 lockdowns has been good for the environment and natural ecosystems, these activities are now resuming. The Coronavirus pandemic is devastating, but unless we act now, the impact of climate change on humanity will be catastrophic.
"Unless we act swiftly to significantly reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, we will be facing one state of disaster after another for many years to come."
Climate change, however, is about much more than changing weather patterns, he said. Water resources, food security, public health, public infrastructure, ecosystems and biodiversity are impacted.
"It affects the most vulnerable in society, who suffer the effects of extreme weather events and the degradation of ecosystems," the President said.
Government has to build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change, as it works to reduce the country's carbon emissions.
"Similarly, nearly every key sector of our economy - from mining to construction, from agriculture to automotive manufacturing - needs to adapt to the effects of climate change," he said.
National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy
Cabinet last week approved the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy as a response to the challenge.
"This strategy will guide one important aspect of our climate change response. In line with our commitments under the Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change, we are moving ahead with both mitigation strategies - to reduce our carbon emissions - and adaptation strategies to prepare our society for the effects of climate change."
President Ramaphosa said work is already underway in government and in the private sector to respond to climate change, with tangible projects being implemented at both national and provincial government level.
In provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape, new low-carbon technologies are being used to power public transport, with thousands of solar water heaters already installed in public housing.
"As we build a new economy, we cannot afford to be out of step with international moves towards green growth and green development," he said.
The country's major trading partners have signalled a move towards "carbon border taxes" to exclude products from those countries that they consider to be violating their climate change commitments, said the President.
South Africa's research and development activity has long engaged with the green economy.
The country has already made significant advances in the waste and recycling economies.
"Looking ahead, the Hydrogen SA initiative has built local expertise for the hydrogen economy over a decade, with projects underway to support local manufacturing of fuel cell components," said the President, adding that this supports the beneficiation of platinum group metals.
"The hydrogen economy, when linked to renewable energy, can also position South Africa as a global player in the many applications of green hydrogen. Climate adaptation can also support infrastructure development and local production," said President Ramaphosa.
He said South Africa can develop its own expertise in areas such as smart grids, e-mobility, smart water and sanitation solutions, ecological infrastructure and broadband connectivity.
The additional benefit of positioning South Africa as a significant global player in this space is that the country will be able to draw on green funding sources and instruments.
"We already have a National Green Fund, the 'Working for Water' and 'Working on Fire' public employment programmes and National Treasury's Cities Support Programme. All of these support the development of new green industries and the greening of existing initiatives," he said.
As the country counts the devastating cost of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy, the President said the country must resist the temptation to relegate the critical issue of climate change to the "back-burner."
"Far from being an 'added liability' focused solely on issues of compliance, climate change adaptation is an opportunity to quicken the pace towards a sustainable economy that is just and inclusive.
"We need to act now, guided by a common strategy, to combat climate change and build a new, resilient economy," said President Ramaphosa.