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Open letter to the Premier of Gauteng: Premier David Makhura

The government must acknowledge the climate and ecological crisis that all South Africans and especially the most vulnerable of our society are facing and act urgently to address it.

We acknowledge that there is a provincial and national plan to address climate change, but it is not sufficient, and there is no published proof that it is being rigorously implemented or that it is making a palpable difference.

Extinction Rebellion Gauteng calls on you to declare a climate and ecological emergency and to ensure that it is addressed with all the resources at your disposal.

Given Gauteng’s current socio-economic profile, the province is extremely vulnerable. Poverty increases people’s dependence on carbon-intensive energy. At the same time, pollution from industries and mining are being inadequately monitored and controlled. Since Gauteng is the country’s economic hub and one of Africa’s powerhouses, it is essential that the province lead the way in the implementation of measures that reduce emissions causing global warming. This responsibility must guide policy decisions and daily governance, for climate change will soon make lives precarious and reduce the chances of achieving economic stability, let alone growth,

If climate change and ecological degradation are not addressed immediately, Gauteng will, given the increasingly long dry spells that are predicted, become steadily more desolate. Weather patterns will likely be characterized increasingly by periods of drought, scorching temperatures, and more intense thunderstorms, which will increase runoff and reduce the infiltration that supplements groundwater. There is already evidence, established through rigorous science, that the incidence of extreme weather events is increasing. If this trend continues, the entire spectrum of livelihoods – from individual households to economic enterprises – will be destabilized, which will aggravate poverty and cause civil society to unravel.

The dangers of ecological change are underestimated. Flash floods – which are becoming more common – cause drastic soil erosion, which depletes the fertility of the soil, make areas progressively uninhabitable, and forces households and agriculture into versions of monoculture. The collapse of biodiversity, without which food security is impossible, will lead to increasing levels of hunger and the increased instability of the agricultural sector.

A recently revised carbon footprint analysis for Gauteng indicates that it is responsible for 33% of national emissions. A failure to specify and meet carbon emission targets within the region will compromise South Africa’s position in international climate change negotiations. Further, given that success in addressing climate change motivates investors, Gauteng’s limited success in this regard will lead to its incremental marginalization in regional and world markets.

Extinction Rebellion Gauteng demands that you issue and publish a Climate Emergency Declaration and pursue clear practical actions that will contribute to the protection of the lives of citizens and that promote their economic well-being.

The Declaration should guide provincial policy development and be used to leverage agreement and endorsement in the national government.

The Declaration must:

  • Emphasize the threat of climate change and ecological degradation and undertake to place climate urgency at the centre of all policy decision-making decisions.
  • Announce the provincial government’s resolve to hold industries using fossil fuels (especially manufacturing and mining) accountable for their emission levels, for these are the primary drivers in climate change and are already inflicting harm on South Africans.
  • Express a commitment to achieve – sooner rather than later – the Paris Agreement’s target of a mean-temperature increase of less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unless we conform to this very modest standard, we will suffer regional disaster and international ignominy. Demand that the South African government insist other industrial states comply with the Paris Agreement.
  • It must state unambiguously the province’s resolve to ensure a rapid and just transition to a low-carbon economy and society. This entails an unwavering commitment to invest in, and promote the use of, renewable energy solutions.
  • Commit to phasing out the burning of coal and to stopping all plans to invest in coal mining and processing. This must be one part of a general prohibition of the expansion of the production and use of fossil fuel.

Climate change is no longer only a driver of future risk. Its effects are already being felt in the increased incidence of droughts, heatwaves, fires, and flash floods. It is a lived reality that will worsen incrementally in the coming years. At present levels of deterioration, any plans for development extending beyond the end of this decade will be scuttled by circumstances that will soon be beyond our control.

As has always been the case, vulnerable South Africans will suffer most – poor and working-class citizens, women, children, the aged, and migrants will be dramatically affected in the first instance. Political instability is always a consequence of a lack of social justice.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) recently released its provisional report, State of the Global Climate 2020. It states that climate change ‘continued its relentless march this year,’ with 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record. The period of 2011-20 will be the warmest decade on record and the warmest six years have all occurred since 2015. Ocean temperatures are at record levels: more than 80% of the global ocean experienced a marine heatwave in 2020. Also, studies of climate change-related weather events between 2015 and 2020 tracked 76 freak extreme weather events that were responsible for the destruction of swathes of the environment, and for the death of scores of people.

According to WMO estimates Global warming cost 30-billion hours of potential labour in 2019 alone, and it aggravated regional food shortages. Africa was one of the two continents most adversely affected. Seven out of the ten hottest years in Africa in recorded history occurred since 2010. Unless climate change is addressed radically and immediately, this is the future to which we are condemned.

The only route to change is to confront South African citizens, the public sphere, and all economic actors with the destructive reality in which they are complicit. It is incumbent upon you, Premier Makhura, to exert every influence that you can – on provisional government, in policy formulation, and in all public forums – on addressing climate change and ecological deterioration.

You must also ensure that every citizen is made aware of this priority and their part in contributing to resisting global warming and ecological degradation. They must be empowered to learn and develop conscious awareness of the need to act in their and our collective true best interests as well as our obligations to ourselves, our communities, our country, continent, and the world.

Extinction Rebellion is committed to non-violent activism, education, environmental development, and civil resistance that draws the attention of state officials and the public to the climate crisis. We will continue to exert pressure on the province to audit its current policies and actions and to declare a climate and ecological emergency. Government must act in the knowledge that the emergency is real, indisputable, and currently unfolding.

All our lives, livelihoods as well as present and future well-being dependend on acting now.

Open letter to the Premier of Gauteng: Premier David Makhura

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