Mixing the Red and the Green in Southern Africa

By Leisa Perch

Many developing countries have recognised the benefits of green growth and have incorporated strategies into their development plans. China, South Africa, Namibia, Barbados, Azerbaijan are just a few of the diverse countries seeking to transform their economies.

Approaches to-date, still often neglect the critical issue of who benefits and who pays and how benefits and how costs will be distributed and shared across society i.e. the red part of the agenda. In other cases, some countries are keen to combine the red and green agendas since they cannot see how they could do one without the other. However, how is still an open question and will likely be different between countries and even within countries.

On April 22nd and 23rd, 2014, the African Centre for the Green Economy (AFRICEGE) hosted its first inaugural training workshop on the Social Dimensions of Green Growth with the participation and support of the World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+) and the New Economics Foundation. The two-day testing workshop involved a small group of 9 persons from across government, academia and the private sector.

With a view to establishing this training as part of AFRICEGE’s annual work programme, the workshop tackled issues relevant to South Africa, Southern Africa, individual countries and regional mechanisms like Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

RIO+ has initiated this partnership with AFRICEGE, a young and growing actor on the green economy stage in Africa, as part of our global effort to facilitate South-South dialogue across the three pillars of sustainable development. The RIO+ Centre brings its existing knowledge base on inclusive growth, inequality, governance and justice as well as social policy to the “green” debate, i.e. we focus on the social or the Red.

AFRICEGE worskshop pictureThe Social Dimensions module in particular, focuses on, resource inequalities, the potential role of social policy in meeting the underlying equity goals of green growth transformations / green economy and the need for a broad risk management approach to green transitions.

An inequality exercise was employed to reinforce that equality is much more than about income –it is, in simple terms, the ability to move forward when opportunities are presented and even when specific opportunities that target a specific group are being promoted. Participants, assigned to live in someone else’s world temporarily, could only move forward if they could answer yes to the questions asked. Questions related to the realities of the day including purchasing power (You have decent housing with a telephone, Internet and cable television), protest power (The water smells and is coming in drips and drags. The garbage has not been collected for a week. Your local representative is attending a local meeting, you attend, approach him and demand action), claiming power (Your knowledge and skills are respected in the society where you live). After 20 questions, the room which in the beginning started with everyone at the same baseline looked very different. 1-2 people were at the front, most in the middle and a few at the back and one person only moved one step forward. Interestingly while this person wasn’t able to move forward on any of the income-based question, they did feel that their views would be respected.

One of the participants, Lwamba Chisaka, a student at Stellenbosch University, commented “Such an exercise goes to the core of what I imagine a good policy maker needs to be able to do – understand what drives behaviour and then restructure incentives to induce a positive change. If we are to have any success in greening economies I think this sort of empathetic, deeper understanding is very important”.

Taking a more proactive approach on the social dimensions also allows us to openly discuss some of these realities, plan for and mitigate the negatives while emphasizing the positives. This will leverage as well as contribute to RIO+’s work on Inequality, Justice and Governance, Financing for Sustainability, Sustainable Cities, the SDGs and Social Protection for Sustainable Development. On the latter, in particular, social protection could potentially play a critical role in mitigating fall-out from significant policy changes. If initial efforts in transferring income to mitigate losses from not extracting forest resources bear fruit, can this not also work to smooth other ripples in income driven by “green” goals?  Without a plan to bolster the capacity of the poor to purchase or participate in greener alternatives, the cure just might turn out to be worse than the original disease.

I am again reminded something that Lwamba also wrote, “I had never really taken the time to appreciate the critical role that policy plays in translating dissatisfaction, media attention and crisis into sustained change…I think in some ways the sustainable development/green economy movement suffers from this protest-to-policy challenge.” This is an important challenge thrown out to all of us: How to move the protest (and critique) into tangible and effective policy and change.

The next training workshop is in August 2014 and will focus on Energy. Energy is a hot topic these days, with the debates ranging from the cost-benefits of Germany’s green energy transformation to how to make solar even more accessible and expand its use; from natural gas’s reduced carbon load vs. fracking concerns to  how to make a long-term ‘diet’ change away from fossil-fuels. In Southern Africa there are even more basic questions about balancing water and energy issues as hydropower expands. In a region where drought is such an issue, where water has many gender dimensionsand where South Africa gets a lot of its water from the Kingdom of Lesotho, what should the priorities be? What would those red and green measurements of success look like?

We will tackle some of these issues in our upcoming blogs, policy practice briefs and working paper series.  Keep watching this space!

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