Data shows how South African cities can play a vital role in delivering green jobs and an equitable and sustainable recovery from the pandemic

Ambitious urban climate action could create and support over 1.8 million green jobs in South Africa by 2030. The jobs would be part of a green and just recovery from COVID-19, according to the research from C40 Cities, a global network of mayors taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis.

Of those jobs, nearly 1.1 million would be across the buildings, power and sustainable transport sectors, and almost 674,000 of those jobs — accounting for approximately 58% of all jobs — can be generated and supported locally within cities. According to the report, investing in adaptation and nature-based solutions to tackle extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, can produce an additional 705,000 sustainable jobs across the country.

Alongside the research, national polling commissioned by C40 found that two-thirds of South Africans strongly support using national government funds to invest in green jobs in cities.[1]

The report identified improving the energy efficiency of existing and new homes, schools and workplaces as having the most significant job-creation opportunity. This has the potential to create more than 900,000 jobs, equivalent to 78% of the jobs created from climate action in the buildings, energy, and transport sectors. These urban actions would lead to significant emissions reduction that would surpass the South African 2030 climate target, making higher ambition to align with the Paris Agreement possible for South Africa.

Most significantly, creating green jobs will have a ripple effect across people’s lives, from ensuring comfortable homes, to cleaning up the air we all breathe and making cities more resilient to future extreme weather events. The research indicates the need to implement workforce development, training and just transition policies to guarantee that new jobs are truly inclusive and accessible to those who need them the most, including women, youth and previously disadvantaged individuals, as this will not happen automatically. For example, female representation in future jobs is estimated at 32%, showing there is an opportunity to bolster equity as these jobs are created.

“The transition to a green economy must be just, inclusive and equitable,” said Dr Mpho Phalatse, Executive Mayor of Johannesburg and C40 Vice Chair. “Cities are at the forefront of the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment. Cities are also at the forefront of the climate emergency. We must tackle these challenges together! Green jobs can help to alleviate poverty whilst helping to build clean, healthy, sustainable and resilient communities. We must ensure that green jobs go to those who need them the most, marginalised communities, women and the youth. Cities are already attracting investment and creating thousands of green job opportunities. With the support of national government and the private sector we can go even further.”

Solar wells to address the problem of drought; a woman cleaning a solar energy panel. Photo courtesy of Raphael Pouget / Getty.
© Raphael Pouget / Getty Images

The report also highlights that significant investment from public and private sources is needed for cities to realise their full potential in terms of job creation, emissions reduction and building resilience, and that the gains from this investment will far outweigh the cost. Investments of a similar magnitude would be required under a business-as-usual recovery that wouldn’t provide the same benefits across people’s lives (such as more energy efficient houses, cleaner air, better public transport systems and more resilient cities) or put the country on track to meet climate targets. This means that it is not a matter of additional investments, but more to ensure that investment moves from carbon-intensive projects to low-carbon ones supporting a green and just recovery for everyone.

“The research not only shows the potential for green job creation in South Africa, but also symbolises the potential for other African countries to harness the power of cities to unlock green jobs and realise a just transition,” said Hastings Chikoko, Regional Director for Africa at C40.

Time is of the essence. A delay of five years in the climate actions outlined in the research will reduce the emissions reduction and job creation potential by 2030 by one-third.

Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda of Durban says: “This year, the city of Durban will host a youth employment expo in recognition of the urgent need to create jobs and invest in skills development for young people. As the Mayor of Durban, I am committed to growing a sustainable, equitable and inclusive economy.

“The concept of green jobs is not only about saving the environment. This concept goes hand in hand in supporting my city’s vision for social justice by benefiting disadvantaged communities, women and the youth.

“These are the same communities prone to flooding and in need of support to become more resilient. It is critical therefore that green jobs are designed to offer secure employment, safe working conditions and fair remuneration with the end goal to support the local economy, improve infrastructure and service delivery and enhance the quality of life for all residents.”

Executive Mayor Ald Tania Campbell of Ekurhuleni says: “I’m proud that the City of Ekurhuleni has been recognised as a leader in training. It is critical that job creation initiatives are also coupled with skills training to increase the likelihood of beneficiaries securing employment opportunities in the longer term.

“Such training opportunities must also be targeted towards groups most in need – women, the youth and previously disadvantaged communities. This is one way we can ensure that the transition to a green economy is just.

“Building a green economy not only creates opportunities for a better skilled and future proof workforce, it helps to tackle climate change, improve the environment and support livelihoods.”

Executive Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis of Cape Town says: “In our drive for energy security, actioned by our recent IPP tender and other projects, the City of Cape Town will create local green jobs by putting green energy on the grid and providing reliable electricity supply for economic recovery.

“At the same time, we will continue to invest in innovative green and hybrid infrastructure, such as our new catchment management approaches, and provide much-needed jobs through river clearing programmes and other support for the ecosystem services our city relies on.”

Executive Mayor Randall Williams of Tshwane says: “This year Tshwane launched a jobs lottery, which relies on artificial intelligence to offer employment to 9,000 job seekers. The initiative is part of the City’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).

“In the future this type of programme will aim to incorporate ‘green jobs’, which not only supports the livelihoods of workers, but also helps to build a liveable, resilient and inclusive city.

“These opportunities will be created in integrated waste management, community safety and greening, among others, and will aim to upgrade informal settlements, townships, industrial areas and open spaces including parks. Green jobs have the potential to transform lives and to transform our city.”

Dr Alex Lenferna, campaigner with 350 Africa and Secretary at the Climate Justice Coalition, said: “Transforming our economy to tackle the climate crisis is one of the greatest opportunities to create new jobs, and build a more just and equal society at the same time. As the ‘Creating Local Green Jobs in South Africa’ report shows, not only is investing in a just and green recovery a vital way to build more prosperous, sustainable and inclusive communities, but it can also create hundreds of thousands of good quality green jobs.”

Dorah Marema, Portfolio Head in Municipal Sustainability at the South African Local Government Association, said: “South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world and cities have to consider intersectional approaches that looks at gender, sex, race, age, class, disability, and other identities to ensure equitable access to opportunities. These intersectional approaches must be integrated during the planning, development, implementation, and monitoring of just urban transitions and not after the fact. This will ensure that those who are disproportionately affected and vulnerable to climate change are not excluded in the just urban transition agenda in cities.”

Read next:How green jobs are bringing greater social and economic equality to Johannesburg

[1]  Survey data from ClearPath Strategies. Sample size of n=803 for the South Africa national sample (MoE ±3.46%) and n=205 for the Johannesburg oversample (MoE ±6.84%). Online fieldwork took place between January 24th – February 3rd 2022. The figures are a demographically representative sample proportions by age, gender, region, and race.

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