South Africa misses the gold rush

Home » News » South Africa misses the gold rush

In the 28 September 2009 edition of Newsweek Gordon Brown wrote an article about the future that calls on the world reach agreement in Copenhagen in December – for which, he says, “there will be no second chance”. Significantly, he argues that investments in a sustainable future are also the investments that will get the world out of the global recession.

“There can be little doubt that the economy of the 21st century will be low-carbon. What has become clear is that the push toward decarbonisation will be one of the major drivers of global and national economic growth over the next decade. And the economies that embrace the green revolution earliest will reap the greatest economic rewards. … Just as the revolution in information and communication technologies provided a major motor of growth over the past 30 years, the transformation to low-carbon technologies will do so over the next. It is unsurprising, therefore, that over the past year governments across the world have made green investment a major part of their economic stimulus packages. They have recognised the vital role that spending on energy efficiency and infrastructure can have on demand and employment in the short term, while also laying the foundations for future growth.” – Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the UK

In the same article, he refers to a need for a $100 billion fund to finance the sustainability revolution – this echoes the Stern Report’s call to commit 1% of global GDP (which, of course, is higher than $100 billion). Others say that actual expenditure is higher. In yesterday’s International Herald Tribune Thomas Friedman says that the most significant change since the financial crisis began is going unnoticed, namely that Red China has decided to become Green China. China sees the future and has decided to boost growth through investments in sustainable resource management – as we all catch up, we will be buying Chinese technology to be sustainable, Friedman argues. Obama talks about the Green New Deal.  Sustainability, in short, has become mainstream economics. Brown’s article is the official announcement that the new green gold rush is on. But no-one in South Africa has heard this – those that have assume it is a false alarm. Nimrod Zalk was reported to have said in a talk last week that environmentalism needs a business case before it becomes economic policy – no-one talks like this anymore in the world. No-one. Environmentalism is dead. Sustainability economics is how the world thinks, for better or for worse. But South Africa, with the greatest potential to take advantage of the new gold rush, is asleep and it is the poorest of our nation who will suffer the consequence because it is jobs that they need that are being lost. ESKOM’s decision to terminate all renewable energy projects is probably the single biggest blow to the future of our economy since the 1998 currency crisis, or maybe the arms deal. The message it sends out is: “sorry, South Africa is closed for business, we have decided to stay behind in the old world. When we need technology we wont invent our own to sell to the world, we will buy it from the Chinese.” What a shame. What a shame.