By Dr. Mpho Phalatse, Mayor of Johannesburg and C40 Vice Chair for the Africa Region

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inextricable link between public health, the environment and the economy. Its effects on health, wellbeing and economic security are felt by everyone, but they are especially pronounced for the most vulnerable in society. These devastating impacts have been particularly acute for the poorest communities worldwide and those in the Global South – two groups that have long suffered environmental injustices as a result of the climate crisis.

Cities are at the forefront of the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment. Cities are also on the frontlines of the climate emergency. As we continue to grapple with the challenges presented by the pandemic and look to rebuild our economies, it is clear that a fair and inclusive recovery plays an integral role in ensuring that cities and their communities can secure a more healthy, resilient and prosperous future in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a fair and inclusive pandemic recovery?

A fair and inclusive recovery prioritises the transition to a green, just and equitable economy. By investing in solutions that reduce emissions, we can mitigate climate breakdown, while improving public health, creating green jobs and tackling systemic inequality in the process.

The first step to achieving a green and just economy involves having the relevant policy, legislation, by-laws and regulations in place. For example, in Johannesburg, the city has approved a climate action plan (CAP) and is mainstreaming it into all city processes, systems and operations. Another important step is investing in sectors that will bring good-quality green jobs to residents and create a more liveable city, while also improving the delivery of municipal services.

Two African men install solar panels neatly on a residential roof of a house near the ocean. Sustainable living.
Technicians install solar panels on a roof. © nattrass / Getty Images

Recent research from C40 Cities found that increasing investment in rail infrastructure in Johannesburg would create 76,000 green jobs, while prioritising environmentally-friendly construction would create 143,000 green jobs. Green jobs help alleviate poverty and build healthy, sustainable and resilient communities. We must ensure that green jobs go to those who need them the most, such as marginalised communities, women and youth.

How can a green economy create a fairer, safer and healthier future?

Better financial outcomes aren’t the only goal in a green economy; it is also about making our city a safer, healthier place to live. In Johannesburg, one out of every four people goes to bed without a meal. In the poorest neighbourhoods, that number increases to one in two—meaning one-half of all residents are left hungry. Food insecurity is a serious problem, which is why the city has invested in a food resilience programme. The programme has already established 50 cooperatives, four new farms and an urban agri-zone, where farmers can grow and sell produce.

Senior woman watering plants while working with friends on urban garden
© Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

This programme is not just a social service. It is a critical way to expand local food production and generate local revenue by encouraging the growth of this sector in line with our CAP. There are numerous positive side effects: increasing jobs in agriculture and food production results in increased self-reliance and more local produce, better nutrition, and healthier and more sustainable communities with greater social equality, which may increase the ability of people to participate in the economy.

This is just one way that green jobs promote both sustainability, inclusivity and equality. We can see the same circular aspects in other sectors, ranging from energy and manufacturing, to waste management and healthcare. Transitioning to a green economy is about much more than creating a more environmentally-friendly Johannesburg; it is also critical to achieving a more resilient and equitable future.

Cities like Johannesburg are leading the way in achieving a fair and inclusive pandemic recovery by striving for a green and just transition, having demonstrated the highest level of climate ambition in our city’s CAP. With the support of national governments and through ambitious COP27 commitments, we can go even further, and create a healthy, resilient and prosperous future where no one is left behind.

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